Meet the Manatee, Florida’s Friendliest Face

Friendly. Graceful. The ever-gentle giant of Florida’s waterways. There’s a lot to love when it comes to the manatee…and this spring, we’re paying homage to our namesake by taking a closer look at the characteristics that make it so truly one-of-a-kind.

Just read on to learn more.

The Florida manatee

Part of the West Indian family of manatees, the Florida manatee is something special—and not just because it’s our official state marine mammal.

The Florida manatee is the largest of the sirenian order, a group of marine mammals named after the legendary sirens of Greek mythology: sea creatures who used their beauty and enchanting voices to bait sailors to shipwreck.

Though they may share a name, however, the actual sirenians are much friendlier. They’re herbivores, for one, and are generally content to move slowly through the water, munching on aquatic plants as they go. They also love to soak up the sun and warm weather—much like we might! 

Spot a sea cow?

We often call manatees “sea cows,” as the similarities between them and the black-and-white grazers of land are easy to see. But it might actually be more appropriate to call the manatee a sea elephant, since these two animals share a common ancestor. When you consider their gentle dispositions, gray leathery skin and penchant for plant-based diets, this link is even easier to see.

Manatee moves

Unlike fish, shorebirds or their other coastal neighbors, manatees are not quite a blink-and-you-miss-it species. Instead, they most commonly move slowly through the water—at around three to five miles per hour, taking their time as their wide tail gentle pushes up and down. Once in a while (when they’re startled, or playing around), you might spot a manatee moving quicker, flipping or boosting through the water at speeds of up to 20 miles per hour. When manatees meander toward the shore (often toward mangrove clusters by the water), you can watch them bob up out of the water to munch on a leafy snack.

There’s typically time for you to pull out your phone and snap a photo… though often, the best way to watch is to sit back, relax and enjoy the show!

Breathe in… breathe out

Another classic manatee move: peeking their noses above the surface to inhale oxygen, as all marine mammals must do. Since manatees have the best air exchange rate of any mammal, they don’t need to do it very often—once every 20 minutes or so during periods of rest.

Meeting a manatee

Of course, the biggest question on your mind is probably—where can I see a manatee in action? It’s a truly awe-inspiring sight, so this is a good question to ask.

Fortunately, at this part of the year, time (and climate) is on your side. The manatees are known to gather around warm waterways—the kind Florida’s famous for—to escape the seasonally cold weather that’s affecting much of the country. While they can be seen all year-round, the chances of happening upon one (or more) throughout the remainder of spring are especially promising. So… where do you go?

Manatees live in freshwater as well as salt or brackish water—so many Florida waterways are fair game. In addition to the springs of Central Florida, manatees can be found in rivers and coastal estuaries, too, such as the Indian River.

Now that you’ve learned more about the manatee, keep your eyes peeled to spot one in the wild—because nothing beats seeing one for the first time!

We here at The Manatee would love to help you on your journey—just call us today to learn more, or to make a reservation for a scenic tour.