Have you ever heard of manatees?? These gentle giants are sometimes called “sea cows!” Learn about manatees with fun facts, a bit of geography, books, videos, and more! Then, discover how you can visit manatees in Florida!
Manatees are gentle, slow-moving mammals that live in coastal waters off the United States from South Carolina, through the Caribbean to the northern coast of South America; they are also found in the Amazon Basin, and on the West African Coast. Manatees like shallow coastal areas and rivers where they feed on sea grass, mangrove leaves, and algae. These herbivores eat 150-200 pounds a day!!! You’ll see in the videos that manatees use their flippers to “walk” along the sea floor.
All three species of manatee– the Amazonian manatee, West Indian manatee, and West African manatee– are considered vulnerable. Even though they don’t have natural predators in the wild, threats from humans include boat collisions, hunting, habitat destruction, and toxic red tides. Thanks to conservation efforts, their numbers are increasing. We need to continue to protect their habitat, by slowing down boats (who can’t stop in time to see them), and to educate people about endangered species (like these lesson plans here).
If you would like to see manatees in their natural habitat, there are pods of manatees near Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, in Florida on the Gulf of Mexico. In colder weather, they look for warm, underwater springs. On spring break, we booked a trip with Gulf Coast Expeditions. They have set up viewing areas in order to keep visitors at a safe distance: visitors are only allowed to quietly observe, with no touching, splashing, feeding, or screaming.
Can you see in the video how manatees are gentle, slow-moving animals? They surface to breathe every 3-5 minutes, though they can hold their breaths up to 20 minutes! Females have a calf every 2-3 years. Manatees give birth to live young and nurse their babies– just like humans and other mammals.
Learn about Manatees in Books for Kids
I Can Read about Manatees, by Janet Palazzo-Craig
National Geographic Readers: Manatees, by Laura Marsh
Face to Face with Manatees, by Brian Skerry
Manatees, by Kate Riggs
Florida Manatees: Biology, Behavior, Conservation, by John E. Reynolds III
I’m a Manatee, by John Lithgow