If you visit the Sarasota area and venture out in a kayak, chances are excellent that you may encounter a manatee. In fact, these unique and fascinating creatures are often spotted in a wide variety of waterways, from canals to the Bay. While their size may make them appear intimidating, the manatee is actually a very gentle animal that needs our help to thrive.

In this article, we get to know these lovable Florida residents in a more in-depth way.

Surprising Facts About the Florida Manatee

  1. Manatees Have a Constant Need to Eat: To stay warm, manatees consume vast amounts of seagrass daily, up to 10-15% of their body weight. Their diet mainly consists of seagrasses, which they graze on almost constantly. Unlike other marine mammals with blubber, manatees rely on this high-volume feeding strategy to maintain their body temperature in cooler waters. Their feeding paths often create clear trails in seagrass beds, which are visible indicators of manatee activity in their habitats.
  2. Manatees Have a Unique Dental Adaptation: Manatees exhibit a unique dental feature: their teeth continuously grow and move forward in their mouths, replacing worn teeth with new ones from the back. This adaptation is essential for their diet of abrasive sea grasses, which can quickly wear down teeth. Unlike most mammals, which have a set number of teeth replacements, manatees’ teeth regenerate throughout their lives.
  3. Manatees Can Control Their Own Buoyancy: Manatees possess an extraordinary ability to control their buoyancy by precisely regulating their breath-holding and lung volume. By adjusting the amount of air in their lungs, they can float effortlessly at the water’s surface or dive down to graze on seagrass beds. Their large lungs, extending along most of their body, allow them to hold their breath for up to 20 minutes while resting, which aids in their buoyancy.
  4. Manatees Have a Low Reproductive Rate: Manatees are known for their lengthy gestation period, about 12 to 14 months, leading to a low reproductive rate. Female manatees typically give birth to a single child at a time and may not reproduce again for another 2 to 5 years. The care for their young is intensive, with calves staying close to their mothers and nursing for up to two years while learning to graze on vegetation and live as a manatee. The slow reproductive rate, combined with human-induced mortality factors like boat collisions, places manatees in a vulnerable position, though recent years have brought us better news about their population strength.
  5. Manatees Are Natural Gardeners: Manatees act as natural gardeners in the environment. By feeding on sea grasses, they help maintain the health and spread of these aquatic plants, balancing coastal ecosystems. Their grazing helps prevent the overgrowth of seagrass, which can lead to worsening water quality and hinder the growth of other marine life. In the place of the consumed grass is open space, encouraging the growth of new seagrass. Manatee eating habits help maintain a diverse array of marine species that rely on healthy seagrass beds for habitat and nourishment.
  6. Manatees Have Developed Advanced Sensory Systems: Manatees possess an exceptional sensory system perfectly adapted to their aquatic environment. Their facial whiskers, or vibrissae, are highly sensitive and assist them in navigating the murky waters where they often feed. Each whisker is connected to muscles and nerves that enable manatees to detect minute changes in water currents and pressure, locate food, and navigate obstacles without sight. This tactile system is so refined that manatees can identify different textures of plants, helping them select specific types of seagrasses and algae to eat.

Rent a Kayak, Meet a Manatee

If you are interested in encountering a manatee in its natural habitat, rent a kayak! Peacefully paddling through their environment can give you an up-close look at these incredible marine animals – but be sure to read about the rules of engagement before you meet one!

Ride and Paddle rent the kayaks and bicycles that make Sarasota and Siesta Key adventures possible – call today to learn more about our equipment rentals and kayak tours.