Manatees are returning to Florida for the winter, so boaters need to be extra careful to avoid the huge, slow-moving creatures.
Adult manatees are about ten feet long and weigh 1,000 pounds, and they like to swim just below the surface, so they are very susceptible to injury from passing boats. They also are slow, usually swimming at just 3 to 5 mph, although they can go as fast as 20 mph in short bursts.
The gentle sea cows are creatures of habit, often returning to the same place year after year. They gather in Florida from November through March for the warm water. When the water temperature falls below 70 degrees F farther north, they head south, moving back to their warm-water refuges.
They particularly enjoy the warm water from power plant run-offs, and they congregate in the St. John River on the East Coast and in the Crystal and Homosassa Rivers on the West Coast, although they can be found in bays and inlets and all along the Intracoastal Waterway. Manatees can live in fresh or salt water.
In the summer they range as far west as Alabama or Louisiana, and as far north as the Carolinas or Virginia. Migration is easy for them; they find their food source, seagrass and other aquatic plants, along the way.
Despite their size, manatees have little body fat to keep themselves warm, and their metabolic rate is low compared to other marine mammals. Their death rate goes up when Florida experiences an unusually cold winter. Read more: