Manatees are gentle and passive mammals who live in shallow, slow-moving rivers, estuaries, saltwater bays, canals, and coastal areas. Unfortunately, manatees and their habitats are under serious threat from ocean pollution and other human activities. It’s up to us to help protect these peaceful, loveable animals and aid the recovery of their population and habitats around the world.
Manatees are curious creatures that use their mouths and flippers to explore their environment. Anything that gets stuck in seagrass beds or other vegetation, including plastic bags, balloons, and fish hooks, can be ingested. Monofilament fishing line is a particular hazard. Manatees’ intestines are over 100 feet long (!!!) and plastic is simply unable to pass through their digestive tract.
Manatees can easily become entangled in anchor lines, crab trap buoys, and abandoned fishing gear. Entangled manatees drown if they get stuck below the surface. Even if they have access to air or are rescued in time, it’s still possible for them to seriously damage themselves. Some manatees have lost flippers this way.
Manatees are herbivores who love to munch on seagrass, mangrove leaves, certain kinds of algae, and other water plants. They spend up to eight hours a day foraging and eat as much as 10% of their body weight in water veggies every day. Water pollution, plastic pollution, herbicides, dredge and fill projects, and surface runoff have all contributed to the degradation and loss of many of the seagrass meadows and freshwater grass beds that manatees rely on for survival.
Manatees are able to move freely between fresh, salt, and brackish waters, but they don’t tolerate cold water temperatures so well. While they look chubby and well insulated, they actually have very little fat and can experience cold stress when water temperatures fall below 68℉. Cold stress can be fatal.
Manatees rely on natural warm springs to help regulate their body temperature during cold seasons, but residential development has limited their access. Up to two thirds of the manatee population have come to rely on warm-water outfalls from electric power plants instead. However, aging plants are often closed or experience equipment failure. With fewer safe havens where they can avoid colder temperatures, manatees are at a higher risk for cold stress.