Florida Manatee

Florida Manatee by Keith Ramos- US Fish and Wildlife (public domain)

Now why on earth is a Florida Manatee included on a website about Connecticut wildlife?

Believe it or not, one of these creatures often wanders from its warm home and swims north up the east coast in the summer. Many summers have been punctuated by a manatee visitor in Connecticut waters. A male manatee named Chessie became famous when he was spotted swimming up the coast in 1994. He was caught, equipped with a radio transmitter, and returned to Florida by plane. In the summer of 1995 he again came north and made it all the way to Rhode Island before turning south. He has since lost the transmitter.

As recently as 2010 a manatee was seen at the docks of the Mystic Seaport. Perhaps it wanted to see the tall ships. Sightings were reported in Clinton, Connecticut as well and were likely the same animal.

It's a thrill to see a manatee in their typical range, let alone up here in Connecticut. Northern sightings always result in excitement and news coverage. Therefore, although Connecticut is not their home, I am including the Florida Manatee in this collection.

Florida manatees are large aquatic animals. Their bodies are torpedo-shaped, grey, and only sparsely covered with hair. Patches of algae can make dark green patches on a manatee's back, the area most often in sunlight. They have rounded tail flukes and large flippers with 3 to 4 nails apiece for forelimbs. Their broad head resembles that of a walrus with small eyes, large nostrils and a cleft upper lip with bristley whiskers. They can grow up to 13 ft long and weigh 3,500 lbs, but the average size is 10 ft and 1000lbs.

Manatees range through the southern waters of the US and are most common in Florida. They are migratory and will move north in the summer while congregating in the warmest waters in winter. Ocassionally one will wander up the coast into New England in summer, but they are rarely seen north of the Carolinas. They stay healthiest in water that is 68 degrees F or warmer. Manatees can be in salt or fresh water. They go where there is plentiful grazing and are found in shallow coastal waters, bays, estuaries, rivers and lakes.

Manatees are herbivores. They use their lips to pull vegetation into their mouths. They eat all sorts of soft aquatic vegetation.

The manatees' mating season is variable. Usually one baby is produced every 2 or 3 years, and a mother cares for her offspring for 2 1/2 years. Babies are born underwater.

Manatees are docile and sociable, often hanging about in groups. They can stay submerged for 24 minutes, but usually breathe more often. They move slowly, swimming at 1 to 4 mph.

Habitat loss combined with their low birth rate has put manatee populations at risk and they are an endangered species. Humans have other negative impacts on the manatee population besides habitat destruction. Manatees' slowness, preference for shallow waters and lack of caution make them very prone to injury and death from impacts with boat hulls and propellers. The output of warm water from power plants may attract manatees to places where grazing is inadequate. Boating restrictions have been enacted in important mantee habitats in the south, and boaters are encouraged to be aware of the possibility of manatees in shallow water and near docks.

If a manatee is encountered farther north of its usual range, do not feed it or give it fresh water as this may encourage it to linger. Mantees must return to their warm home waters to survive the winter.

Neat Fact

Manatees like to drink fresh water, and they will drink from freshwater outlets when swimming in salt water. It is unknown if this is just a treat or if fresh water is required for their survival.