Manatees are large, social,
aquatic mammals, which feed on plants growing on the sea floor.
They frequent shallow nearshore waters and rivers as they
search for food daily. They teach their young instinctive
lifesaving behaviours in the first few moments of life! If
the mother doesn't swim to the surface immediately to breathe
after giving birth, the baby will die. The baby will instinctively
rush to the mother's breasts (which are underwater) and eventually
drown on the breasts. A good mother will rush to the surface
to breathe soon after giving birth, causing the baby to do
likewise, thus saving it's life!
Manatees breathe air just
like other mammals. They spend much of their lives under water,
feeding or resting, yet they must surface to breathe. Manatees
breathe an average of every 2 to 4 minutes, but can stay submerged
15 to 20 minutes when at rest. The manatee or sea cow feeds
6-8 hours a day, tearing off plants with its flexible upper
lip. They are known as 'gentle giants', because of their huge
size and peaceful nature. They would not attack humans.
The average adult Jamaican
manatee is 1-4 meters long, and lives for about 50 years.
The adult manatee weighs about 1,000 pounds. They reach maturity
after 3-4 years, and their gestation period is a whole year!
Mother's suckle their young for a full year. Mother and calf
remain close to each other for about two years, until the
calf is ready to go off on its own. Many people think that
manatees, with their round heads, broad tails and graceful
swimming ability are the animals that inspired legends of
mermaids - beautiful half-woman, half-fish creatures. This
may be, but only if you don't look too closely!
Believe it or not, elephants
are distant relatives of manatees! You can see a hint of this
in the manatees with their large trunk-like noses, leathery
skin and the "toenails" on their flippers. Of the
two, elephants are more evolved, so they do not need to live
in water. Even though manatees are warm-blooded animals, they
are unable to efficiently regulate their body temperatures,
because they have not fully evolved, so they still have to
live in water.