Answers From the Manatee Expert
From: Heimgartner Home School
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Q: I am studying Australia because I am representing the U.S. as a student ambassador and will be traveling there in June. In my research I ran across the Dugong. It reminded me of our manatee. Is the manatee related to the Australian Dugong? Thanks, Samantha Heimgartner People to People Student Ambassador
A: Yes, the manatee found in Florida is the West Indian manatee. It is related to the West African manatee (found in West African coastal areas), the Amazonian manatee (found in the waters of the Amazon River and its tributaries in South America), and the dugong (found in the Indo-Pacific region of the world).
From: Iselin Middle
Iselin, New Jersey
Q: Does the manatee travel in fresh water, salt water, or both?
A: Florida manatees are found in shallow, slow-moving rivers, bays, estuaries and coastal water ecosystems of the southeastern United States. They can live in fresh, brackish or salt water. They prefer waters that are about one to two meters (3-7 feet) deep. Along the coast, manatees tend to travel in water that is about three to five meters (10-16 feet) deep, and they are rarely seen in areas over six meters (20 feet).
Arlington Heights, Illinois
Q: Are Manatees usually very personable with humans?
A: Manatees are passive animals and are often shy and reclusive. Because they are passive, people often have the urge to touch manatees, feed them, or give them fresh water when they are discovered in a marine environment. At Save the Manatee Club, we believe that "look, but don't touch" is the best policy when it comes to manatees, and we encourage people to resist the urge to feed manatees or give them water.
Feeding, watering, and touching manatees can "tame" them, causing them to lose their fear of humans and encourage them to swim up to people who might harm them. People have been known to sit on manatees, ride them, and shoot at them with guns and bows. If you feed manatees from a boat, you could encourage them to approach boats and make them prone to encounters with propellers or entanglement in fishing gear. For their own protection, wild animals need to stay wild to survive.
Q: What are some other ways, (other than getting hit by boats) manatees are getting hurt or killed?
A: Many manatee mortalities are human-related. Most human-related manatee mortalities occur from collisions with watercraft. Other causes of human-related manatee mortalities include being crushed and/or drowned in canal locks and flood control structures; ingestion of fish hooks, litter and monofilament line; entanglement in crab trap lines; and vandalism. Ultimately, however, loss of habitat is the most serious threat facing manatees today.
Q. When Manatees are getting injured by the boats, is it because they swim near the top of the water, or because the boats' propellers are so low in the water?
A: Manatees can swim up to 32 kilometers (20 miles) per hour in short bursts, but they usually only swim about three to eight kilometers (three to five miles) per hour. Because manatees are slow-moving, need to surface to breathe air (because they are mammals), and prefer shallow waters (3-7 feet deep), they are vulnerable to collisions with boats.
From: Hazelurst, Wisconsin
Q: Do manatees migrate to the same place year after year?
A: It has been documented that many manatees have preferred habitats they return to year after year, but this is not true for all manatees.
Q: How do manatees know where to migrate to?
A: Scientists don't know what cues manatees follow, but they seem to know when cold weather is coming and seek warm water areas. In the winter, usually November through March, the manatee population is concentrated primarily in Florida. Water temperatures below 21 degrees C (70 degrees F) usually cause manatees to move into warm refuge areas. Manatees are susceptible to cold-related disease, and they congregate near natural springs or warm water effluents of power plants.
Q: Do manatees migrate in a group or solo?
A: Because manatees have evolved with few natural enemies, they have not needed the protection or cooperation of a herd. Consequently, they are semi-social, somewhat solitary animals. They sometimes gather in small, informal groups, but they have no leader or real herd structure. Manatee aggregations (gatherings) are largely due to common habitat requirements such as warm water, fresh water, or food sources.
From: Arlington Heights, Illinois
Q: When viewing a photo of the manatee mating, it was obvious there were a number of manatees together at one time. My question to you is if the manatee mates with more than one at a time (like that of an orgy), if the number of manatees are there for protection during mating, or for another purpose?
A: Manatees do not form permanent pair bonds like some animals species. During breeding, a single female, or cow will be followed by a group of a dozen or more males or bulls, forming a mating herd. They appear to breed indiscriminately during this time; however, age experience of some males in the herd probably plays a role in breeding success. Although breeding and birth may occur at any time during the year, there appears to be a broad spring-summer calving peak.
From: South O'Brien Middle School, IA
How old is Belvedere, one of the manatees Journey North is tracking?
From: Rolling Meadows High School
Arlington Heights, Illinois
Q: When the manatees migrate to a warmer climate, why do they go back to where they originally came from? What is the reason for them going back and forth instead of staying in the climate they migrated to?
A: Florida manatees are somewhat migratory. In the winter, usually November through March, the manatee population is concentrated primarily in Florida. Water temperatures below 21 degrees C (70 degrees F) usually cause manatees to move into warm refuge areas. Manatees are susceptible to cold-related disease, and they congregate near natural springs or warm water effluents of power plants.
In the summer months, manatees are much more widely distributed. They travel freely around Florida's rivers and coastal waters. A few manatees may range as far west as Texas and as far north as Virginia (one manatee was even documented in Rhode Island!), but these sightings are rare. Summer sightings in Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina are relatively common. Most of their time (winter or summer) is spent eating, resting and traveling.
for all of your great questions! Nancy
How to Use FAQ's About Journey North Species
Since 1995, experts have contributed answers to students' questions about each Journey North species. These questions and answers are archived in our FAQ's (Frequently Asked Questions) section. You can use today's Answers from the Expert above, along with those from previous years, in the activities suggested in the lesson, "FAQ's About Journey North Species"
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