What do manatees do?

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Manatees are huge aquatic, mostly herbivorous, mammals. They are called sea cows because they are generally peaceful and slow plant-eaters just like cows. Manatees graze on water vegetation, eating up to 10-15 percent of their body weight every day. To consume such a large amount, the manatees graze for at least 7 hours a day. Manatees are marine mammals just like the whale or the seal. They have lungs and breathe in air, so they usually have to hold their breath when diving and must surface periodically to breathe. Unlike whales, manatees can survive in both fresh water and salt water habitats and can move between the two at will.

Periodic migrations

The West Indian Manatee dwells in the waters of the Caribbean and Florida. During summer months, the manatees roam the coastal ocean as far south as Brazil and as far north as the Carolinas, and throughout the Mexican Gulf. When winter comes, the low water temperatures compel the manatees to migrate in search of warmer waters. They cannot tolerate water temperatures below 68 degrees F, so when the water temperature falls in the winter, most manatees go inland and find canals and rivers near the sources of warm water.

Feeding and sleeping

Manatees are simple, docile grazers that largely depend on aquatic plants for their survival. They prefer shallow waters, usually between 6 and 7 feet deep, where they can easily find their favorite plants. Once they find their food, the manatees graze for 6-8 hours a day, consuming 60 to 200 pounds of vegetation. Because they consume a lot of vegetation per day, especially water hyacinth, manatees are good at controlling the proliferation of this weed, which is a nuisance to human activity in water canals. When they are not eating, the manatees are either playing or sleeping. To sleep, a manatee lies motionless on the bed of a river, only surfacing periodically to breathe before settling back on the river bottom.

Interactions with other manatees and people

When they play, manatees tend to chase each other, roll over and over or just rub each other. They are friendly and curious animals, so they usually pop their heads up on the water surface to investigate what is happening in their surroundings. They pay keen attention to boats and the people in them. And while some manatees will avoid snorkelers and swimmers, many manatees usually swim closer to humans for a closer look and interaction. In fact, once they find a person in their midst, they will go as far as rolling over for a belly rub, giving flipper hugs or offering scratchy-whiskered manatee kisses. Manatees are hugely fond of legs.

What to do when manatees approach you

Manatees are friendly and non-aggressive animals, so you should not fear or run away from them. When they approach you, just float patiently or swim along with them waiting for them to make whatever moves they would like to make. Treat them with tenderness and genuine love, making sure to avoid any violent acts such as pinching them, standing on them or poking them. You also should avoid excessive splashing of water. As long as you are gentle and tender to the manatees, they will come to you and interact with you to the fullest. For more information on how to treat manatees during a manatee tour, visit the “Swimming with the Manatees” site.


Swimming with the Manatees boasts the best water adventure in Crystal River, Florida with lots of things to do for you and your family. For more information, contact us online, or call us at (352) 571-1888.

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