Subject: Many Manatee questions

Nancy Sadusky (
Thu, 1 Oct 1998 23:54:22 +0000

Dear Sue and students,

It's good to hear from you again.  Here's the answers to your 

>From Andrew and Carlos: What do manatees eat?  How much sugar does a
manatee need every day to survive?

Manatees are herbivores (plant-eaters), feeding on a large variety of
submerged, emergent, and floating plants. Seagrass beds are important
feeding sites for manatees. Some favorite foods of manatees include:
Marine vegetation: Manatee grass, turtle grass, shoal grass, widgeon
grass. Freshwater vegetation: Hydrilla, eelgrass, water hyacinth, and
water lettuce. 

All carbohydrates in food are broken down into simple sugars to be 
used for energy purposes. Manatees primarily eat plants 
which are not high in carbohydrates, so that's why they eat a 
lot. They need a lot of food to meet nutritional needs.

>From Amar, Ariana, Alex L, Kevin and Sam: How old do manatees live to

Researchers believe that manatees can live 60 years or more.

>From Ariana, Kayla and Ashley: How big does the average manatee get?

 The average adult manatee is about 10-12 feet long and weighs about
 1,500-1,800 pounds.   However, adult manatees have been known to 
exceed lengths of 13 feet and weigh over 3,500 pounds. 

>From Rebekah and Molly: Do manatees have 3 stomachs like whales do? 
Where do manatees live?

Manatees have a single stomach.  They are more like horses in that 
they are "hind gut digesters." This means that absorbtion of 
nutrients occurs in the large intestine rather than the small 
intestine like humans and most other mammals.

>From Kevin and Sam: Why are the manatees nicknamed "Sea Cows"?

"Sea cow" is a common term for manatees and dugongs. This name likely
comes from the fact that manatees are herbivores (plant-eaters), as
are cows.   

>From Alicia and Caroline: How can we help to save the manatees?  What
can we do?

There's lots of things that students can do to help manatees.  First, 
you can email Florida Governor Lawton Chiles and ask him to make the 
state's waterways safer for manatees.  You can do this even if you 
don't live in Florida. You can email the governor at his web site:

Next, write your U.S. senator and representative. Tell them how 
important manatees are to you and ask them to support protection for
manatees and their habitat and to keep other environmental laws (such
as the Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act) 
strong.   E-mail addresses can be found at:

Also, you can join SMC's Email Action Alert Team.  Just 
email back a message to us at the following e-mail address:  Let us know you want to join, and we'll
put you on a list to receive information about manatee protection
issues and what you can do.  

Also, there's a lot of activities you can do to help save manatees:

1.  Learn all about manatees and why they are endangered.

2.  Give a speech about manatees to your class, club, or group.

3.  Write articles on manatees for your school or community 
newspaper.  Contact a reporter at your local paper.  Perhaps they
might be interested in writing a story about manatees. 

4. Go to visit a local waterway.  Organize a clean-up to pick up
litter and trash. Even if you don't live in Florida, this will help
protect birds and other wildlife in your area. 

5.  Get together with the art instructor and paint a "manatee mural"
on a wall at school. Include what elements manatees need to survive
and ideas about what students can do to help save them. 

6.  Put together a class presentation or play about manatees.  
Present it to other classes or community groups. 

7. Organize a recycling program at your school or at home. 

8. Adopt a manatee and join Save the Manatee Club! 

9.  If you visit Florida and are out boating
or on the water, follow these simple rules:

-Dispose of fishing line and litter properly (in the trash, or 
recycle it)
-Recycle your trash
-Practice "passive observation" (observing from a distance) when
around manatees and all wildlife.  Please don't touch or feed
manatees.  Keep them wild! 
-When boating in Florida, watch for signs indicating that manatees are
in the area and obey all posted speed zone signs.

Hope this gives you something to start with!

Jay and Stephen: How did you get interested in manatees? Have you ever
met Jimmy Buffet?

I have always been interested in protecting the environment.  My 
husband and I moved to Florida in 1990.  I went to go see manatees 
after I moved here, and then I started volunteering for Save the 
Manatee Club.  Before I knew it, I started working for SMC as their 
Communications Director!  I get to produce the Club newsletter and 
the web site, and I also get to create lots of manatee education 
materials and work with students and teachers like you!  It's a great 

In answer to your other question, I have met Jimmy Buffett, and he is 
a very nice person.  He does a lot to help manatees and protect 
Florida's beautiful environment.

>From Adam, Chris and Micah: Why are manatees almost extinct?

One of the problems manatees face is that their reproductive rate
is slow. Manatee females usually bear one calf every two to five 
years, and twins are rare.  Because the reproductive rate is so low, 
the species as a whole adapts very slowly to changing situations or 
unnatural stress.     

Any species  of animal living in the wild will suffer losses from 
natural causes and can usually overcome those losses, but the manatee 
population must also deal with additional mortalities caused by 
human-related factors. Most human-related manatee mortalities occur 
from collisions with watercraft.  Another cause of human-related 
manatee mortality includes the accidental ingestion of discarded 
fishing line, hooks, plastic six-pack holders and other debris left 
floating in waterways. Entanglement in crab trap lines and 
monofilament line also cause manatee injury or death.  Manatees can 
be crushed or drowned in flood gates and canal lock structures. 
Ultimately, however, loss of habitat is the most serious threat 
facing manatees in Florida.  

To ensure the survival of the manatee population, mortality levels 
must be reduced and their habitat protected.  Because human-related 
manatee deaths are preventable, this is the most logical way to 
reduce mortalities. 

>From Sarah and Kristie: How many manatees have you seen?

I've seen a bunch of them over the years!  If I had to make a guess, 
I'd have to say that I've probably seen a total of about one hundred 

>From Jacqueline and Alexandra: How many manatees are left?

For years now, researchers have believed that the manatee population 
was somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 animals.  The last aerial 
survey of the Florida manatee population was done in February of 
1998.  The survey showed a population count of 2,019 manatees.  A 
synoptic survey is a statewide aerial survey designed to get a head 
count of individual manatees. The success of synoptic surveys is very 
dependent on weather conditions. If the weather is cold and clear, 
then manatees are gathered around warm water sites, making it easier 
to get a "nose" count.  They are not the most reliable way to 
determine overall manatee population because so much depends on 
weather conditions, but they are the only available method at 

Other surveys from past years have yielded the following results:

1991 - 1,465
1992 - 1,856
Jan. 1995 - 1,443
Feb. 1995 - 1,832
Feb. 1996 - 2,639
Feb. 1997-2,229

Thanks for all your great manatee questions!

Nancy Sadusky

     Communications Director
      Save the Manatee Club
       500 N. Maitland Ave.
       Maitland, FL  32751
         (407) 539-0990