Manatees, also known as sea cows, live only in Florida and even here their future is uncertain. The manatee population has steadily declined due to the loss of suitable habitat and pollution.
The big mammals live in the water, but they need to surface to breath every four minutes or so. When they are sleeping they rise slowly to the surface about once per half hour for a breath. They spend most of their day grazing on aquatic plants, often chomping down up to one hundred pounds a day. Big adults can weigh up to a ton and reach twelve feet in length.
Babies are born after a thirteen month pregnancy and nurse from their mother’s milk glands, located under the flippers. They rely on mom for nourishment for the first year of life, before starting to graze on plants.
Manatees seek warmer waters in the winter months; often migrating to natural springs to stay warm. One man-made refuge is the warm water discharge from power plants. In these temperate waters, the sea cows congregate in large numbers.
The Big Bend Power Station in Apollo Beach is a TECO Power Plant, south of Tampa. The company has built a viewing facility for people to get a good look at the animals. There are also several state parks that offer the chance to observe them.
Manatees have no natural enemies except people. They do not move fast and have a difficult time getting out of the way of boaters. The scars on this one show that he got hit by the propellers on a boat.
Sea cows can live in salt water, but need to find fresh water to drink. For some reason, there are no records of manatees being attacked by sharks. Perhaps they are too big or maybe they are not too tasty to a shark.
Some legends suggest that manatees are what sparked the legend of the mermaid. After all, they do have a mermaid like tail.
If sailors mistook manatees for a fish-woman, they were at sea way too long.