Q. How deep down can manatees go to find food or do they have to keep close to the shore? -- Jeanette Dixon, England
A. Manatees are herbivores, feeding on a large variety of submerged, emergent, and floating plants. Seagrass beds and freshwater submerged aquatic vegetation are important food sources for manatees. Their food sources grow in relatively clear, shallower waters. Also, the water they need to drink is close to shore. The depths at which manatees are found are likely more related to food and water location than to physiological diving limitations. Generally speaking, manatees prefer waters that are about 3 - 7 feet (1 - 2 meters) deep. Along the coast, they tend to travel in water that is about 10 - 16 feet (3 - 5 meters) deep, and they are rarely seen in areas over 20 feet (6 meters) deep.