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Gentle Giants

Saving endangered manatees

Kind News magazine, June/July 2015

Photo by Alex Mustard/NPL/Minden Images

Each year, tourists head to Florida waterways to watch and photograph manatees. The dark gray, whiskered and pleasingly plump "sea cows" are very popular. You'll see them on Florida license plates and T-shirts. There are plush toy manatees—there's even a Manatee County.

Manatees appear to be popular with other animals, too. Alligators have been seen swimming peacefully past manatees. Sharks have been known to leave them alone, as well.

Slow Zone

But even though they're loved by many, manatees are struggling to survive.

Since 1972, manatees have been protected under the Endangered Species Act. Limits on boat speeds, construction and other human activity were put in place to protect the marine mammals and their habitat.

The gentle giants swim in rivers and shallow coastal waters. "Manatee Zone" signs let people know that the animals may be in the area. The signs are helpful to those who want to observe the animals, but that's not the purpose of the signs. They are there to alert boaters that manatees are nearby and that speed limits must be obeyed.

Unlucky Strikes

Despite posted speed limits, boat strikes remain a dangerous threat to the slow-moving mammals. It's estimated that up to 80 percent of manatees have scars from collisions with boat propellers.

Manatees also face threats from unusually cold weather snaps and pollution that can destroy the sea greass the manatees feed on.

Some people say manatees are doing fine. They want protections for the animals removed and speed limits and building restrictions lifted. But the truth is that only around 5,000 manatees swim in Florida waters today.

  • Photo by ArteSub/Alamy

If you or someone you know lives in or plans to visit Florida, speak up for manatees. Ask them to watch out for the gentle giants when boating. Remind them that manatees are endangered and should continue to be protected under the Endangered Species Act.

Did You Know?

  • Manatees are the state marine mammal of Florida.  
  • Manatees are herbivores. Their diet consists of sea grasses and other aquatic vegetation.
  • Manatees can grow 8-13 feet long and weigh more than 1,000 pounds.
  • Manatees must come to the surface to breathe, but their noses may be the only thing visible, which puts them in danger.

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