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Legend:
It may be hard to believe that these wonderfully curious looking, whisker filled faces are probably what spawned the legends of mermaids. Manatee's posses almost human looking eyes that are sure to have mesmerized sailors who caught a glimpse of a passing manatee.

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Characteristics:
The manatee is a large, bulky aquatic mammal that can grow to 12 feet in length and weigh up to 3500 pounds. They may live to be 50 years old. Like elephants, they continue to grow throughout their lives -- the largest manatee ever recorded was 13 feet 4 inches long and weighed over thirty-two hundred pounds. The manatee diet consists entirely of vegetation, consuming at a rate of 100 pounds a day. They eat by using their divided upper lip, which is very flexible, to grasp and take in aquatic plants. They are extremely gentle and have been described as incapable of aggression. Manatees must periodically surface for air.

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Habitat:
The warm Florida water provides wintering refuges for manatees in natural warm water springs. They also are attracted to the warm water outflow from power plants, where on occasion a manatee has gotten stuck and rescue efforts have made the evening news.
The manatee has no known predators other than humans. In the 18th and 19th centuries, humans hunted manatees extensively for their meat, fat, and tough hides. In some parts of the Caribbean and South America, manatees are still hunted for food today.

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Endangered:
One kind of manatee, the Stellar Sea Cow, is already extinct. Only about 2000 Florida manatees are left around our state. Many live in the St. Johns River. Manatees have babies once every five years, so not many babies are born in fact more manatees are killed each year than are born. Manatees have no animal predators; powerboats are now the greatest threat to manatees. Manatees are slow, near-surface swimmers, and the number of collisions with motorboats is increasing at a disturbing rate. In 1990, 218 manatees were killed in boating accidents, and many more were injured. A recent project to capture, tag, and release manatees revealed that many bore the scars of encounters with speedboats.
Other dangers to manatees are pollution, cold weather (which can give them the flu), red tide, and running out of food in the winter.
Additionally, residential and commercial development along rivers and waterways has also affected the manatee population. Habitat destruction has damaged estuarine seagrass which manatees depend on. Chemical pollution has impaired the immune systems of marine mammals, and the manatees may have become more vulnerable to infection as a result. Recent mass deaths among marine mammals have been traced to greater disease vulnerability due to chemical pollution.
We can help by not throwing trash in the water and by driving boats slowly and carefully in manatee zones. Also, we should never chase a manatee to try and pet it.
Only a concentrated effort to protect them in their marine habitat will save manatees from extinction.

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Mortality Rate:
The cause of death breakdown for the Manatee is as follows:
Watercraft - 23%
Flood Gates/Canal Locks - 4%
Other Human - 3%
Dependent Calf - 21%
Other Natural - 17%
Undetermined - 32%

Year
Deaths
Year
Deaths
1990
214
1991
175
1992
167
1993
147
1994
195
1995
203
1996
415
1997
242
1998
243
1999
260
2000
210 (as of 9/30/00)

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MANATEE PROTECTION TIPS
FROM THE FLORIDA FISH AND WILDLIFE CONSERVATION COMMISSION

The West Indian manatee is an endangered species and is protected by state and federal law. Please avoid harassing or disturbing manatees. Harassment is defined as any activity which alters the animal's natural behavior. By altering the manatee's natural behavior, you may create the likelihood of danger that is bad for the animal and against the law.
BEING NEAR MANATEES
· Look, but don't touch manatees. Also, don't feed manatees or give them water. If manatees become accustomed to being around people, they can alter their behavior in the wild, perhaps causing them to lose their natural fear of boats and humans, and this may make them more susceptible to harm. Passive observation is the best way to interact with manatees and all wildlife.
· Do not pursue or chase a manatee while you are swimming, snorkeling, diving or operating a boat.
· Never poke, prod or stab a manatee with your hands, feet or any object.
· If a manatee avoids you, you should avoid it.
· Don't isolate or single our an individual manatee from its group, and don't separate a cow and her calf.
· Don't attempt to snag, hook, hold, grab, pinch or ride a manatee.
· Avoid excessive noise and splashing if a manatee appears in your swimming area.
· Use snorkel gear when attempting to watch manatees. The sound of bubbles from SCUBA gear may cause manatees to leave the area.
· When snorkeling don't wear a weight belt. Float at the surface of the water and passively observe the manatee. Look, but don't touch.
DON'T ENTER AREAS DESIGNATED AS "NO ENTRY MANATEE REFUGE"
These areas have been identified by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services as crucial manatee survival.
WHEN BOATING OR JET SKIING
· Abide by the posted speed zone signs while in areas known to have manatees present or when observations indicate manatees might be present. Observations may include a swirl on the surface caused by the manatee when diving; seeing the animals back, snout, tail, or flipper break the surface of the water; or hearing it when it surfaces to breathe.
· Wear polarized sunglasses to reduce glare on the surface of the water. This will enable you to see manatees more easily.
· Try to stay in deep-water channels. Manatees can be found in shallow, slow-moving rivers, estuaries, lagoons, and coastal areas. Avoid boating over seagrass beds and shallow areas.
· Remain at least 50 feet away from a manatee when operating a powerboat. Don't operate a boat over large concentrations of manatees.
· If you like to water ski, please choose areas that manatees do not use, or cannot enter, such as land-locked lakes.
· Please don't discard monofilament line, hooks, or any other litter into the water. Manatees may ingest or become entangled in this debris and can become injured or even die. Note: discarding monofilament fishing line into the waters of Florida is unlawful.
REMEMBER-
LOOK BUT DON'T TOUCH. INTERACTIONS WITH HUMANS MAY BE HAZARDOUS TO THE MANATEE'S WELL BEING.
Observe the signs

Idle Speed Zone
a zone in which boats are not permitted to go any faster than necessary to be steered.

Slow Speed Zone
a minimum-wake zone where boats must not be on a plane and must be level in the water.

Caution Area
an area frequently inhabited by manatees, requiring caution on the part of boaters to avoid disturbing or injuring the animals.
Resume Normal Safe Operation
a sign indicating that you may resume safe boating speed; visible as you leave a protected area.

No Entry Zone
a protected zone that prohibits boating, swimming, and diving for the protection of manatees.
Protection by law
The manatee is protected under federal law by the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 and by the Endangered Species Act of 1973, which make it illegal to harass, hunt, capture or kill any marine mammal. the manatee is also protected by the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act of 1978, which states: "It is unlawful for any person, at any time, intentionally or negligently, to annoy, molest, harass, or disturb any manatee."
Anyone convicted of violating this state law faces a possible maximum fine of $500 and/or imprisonment for up to 60 days. Conviction on the federal level is punishable by fine of up to $50,000 and/or one year in prison. The State of Florida can pursue prosecution under federal law in circumstances of extreme harassment, resulting in the death or injury of a manatee.


Resources for the creation of this page gathered from various sources including:
http://www.floridaconservation.org//psm/manatee/guide.htm
http://www.floridaconservation.org//psm/manatee/manatee.htm
http://www.floridaconservation.org//psm/signs/signs.ht