We have seen them at Sea World and at Disney and even in zoological parks and they are impressive animals, but it is thrilling to see the West Indian manatees in the wild here in Florida. Manatees thrive in freshwater springs, salty bays, and river systems throughout Florida eating plants including sea grasses and freshwater vegetation.
An aquatic relative of the elephant, these animals weigh upwards of 1,500 to 1,800 pounds and grow up to twelve feet long. Despite their small eyes and lack of outer ears, they see and hear quite well. Manatees propel themselves with their large flat tails and steer with their front flippers.
As of early 2018, there were estimated to be about 6,100 manatees in Florida although, at the writing of this article, hundreds of manatees have died due to a cold snap at the beginning of the year and due to the red tide on the west coast of Florida. Since they are slow moving creatures, some are injured from boat traffic when propellers strike their tough gray skin.
The West Indian manatee is federally threatened which us an upgrade from its endangered status a few years ago. In the 1990’s there were only about 1,200 manatees, but with protections in place for the animal and its habitats, they have rebounded. Close monitoring of the population and continued protections will help it live for future generations to see.