West Indian manatees are large, aquatic mammals with a body that tapers to a flat, paddle-shaped tail. They are grayish-brown in color and have two flippers with nails on them. The head and face of these animals are wrinkled with whiskers on the snout. The average, adult manatee is about 10 feet long and weighs about 1000 pounds. They can reach up to 13 feet in length and weigh up to 3,000 pounds. Manatees emit sound under the water and can be heard by humans while under water. They make these sounds when they are frightened, or interacting with another manatee and with their babies. Sound is not the only form of communication that a manatee will use. They also use sight, taste, touch, and smell.
Because the water temperature in the springs of Kings Bay, the headwaters of Crystal River remains a constant 72 degree temperature, over 400 manatees will migrate to Crystal River each winter to seek refuge from the cold Gulf waters. Every year, a number of manatees remain in the bay throughout the summer months. These resident manatees, and the abundance of manatees that migrate here in the winter, make swimming with the manatees in Crystal River an unforgettable experience. Crystal River is one of the only rivers in Florida where people can legally interact and swim with the manatees in their natural habitat. Please respect the manatees while on your manatee swim tour, we are a guest in their home.
Manatees are very gentle, slow-moving, graceful swimmers. They eat aquatic plants and can consume 10-15% of their body weight daily. Manatees come to the surface to breathe on the the average of every three to five minutes. If they are using a lot of energy, they may surface to breathe as often as every 30 seconds. When sleeping they may only surface every 20 minutes or so.
The reproductive rate for the manatee is very slow. Gestation period is about 13 months. Manatees breed year round in Florida, however most of the calf's are born in the spring and summer months. At birth the calf measures about 4 to 4.5 ft and weighs about 60-70 pounds.
A newborn calf can swim at the surface of the water by itself. The newborn is capable of vocalizing when they are born. Several hours after birth the calf begins to nurse from it's mother's teat under her flipper. Calves nurse under water. A few weeks after being born the infant begins to nibble on plants. The calf may stay with the mother for up to two years before going out on it's own, it stays with the mother to learn survival, travel routes and warm water refuges.
Manatees have no natural enemies, and it is believed they can live 60 years or more. Many manatee mortalities are human-related. Most occur from collisions with watercraft. The loss of habitat is the most serious threat facing the manatee today.
Never enter areas designated as "NO ENTRY-MANATEE SANCTUARY"
Manatee Safe Zone MarkerA manatee sanctuary is an area that is off-limits to human activity such as boating, swimming, diving and fishing. Sanctuaries are created based on scientific research, which identifies certain areas that are critical for manatee survival, particularly warm water or feeding areas. Sanctuaries are places where manatees can rest and feed undisturbed. These areas have been identified by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as crucial for manatee survival.
Harassing manatees is illegal under federal and state laws.
In general, harassment is an intentional or negligent act which significantly disrupts a manatee's normal behavior patterns, including resting, feeding and nursing activity.
Never pursue or chase a manatee.
They are curious by nature and often initiate interaction. Please give manatees space to move. Don't isolate or single out an individual manatee from its group, and never separate a cow and her calf.
Avoid excessive noise and splashing when swimming with the manatees.
Use snorkel gear when attempting to watch manatees. The sound of bubbles from scuba gear may cause manatees to leave the area. Float at the surface of the water to passively observe the manatees and avoid dangling feet and stirring up the bottom. [watch how to swim with manatee video]
Never interrupt a sleeping or feeding manatee.
Manatees are an endangered species and protected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. If you follow the above list of rules, the manatee will be protected and your encounter will be one of the most memorable and enjoyable experiences of your life.