Manatee FAQ: Behavior


Q.
Do manatees in the wild interact with other species?
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Q. What is a group of manatees called? A herd, a pod or something else?
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Q. Do manatees form families? I know some animals "mate for life." What do manatees do?
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Q.
I saw a manatee chewing on a tree. Is this unusual?
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Q. How long do manatees sleep?
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Q. Why do manatees swim so slow?

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Q. What did manatees do to keep warm in the winter before there were man-made warm water effluent areas?

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Q. What time of year do manatees migrate?
A.
In the winter, usually November through March, manatees are concentrated primarily in Florida. Water temperatures below 21° C (70 degrees) usually cause manatees to move into these warm water refuge areas. Manatees are susceptible to cold-related disease, and they congregate near natural springs or warm water effluents of power plants. Individual manatees often return to the same wintering areas year after year. In the summer months, manatees are much more widely distributed and can be found as far west as Texas and as far north as Virginia, but these sightings are rare. Summer sightings in Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina are relatively common.


Q. How long does it take for the manatees to get to their destination?
A.
Manatees are slow-moving animals. It is estimated that they can travel up to 32 kilometers (20 miles) per hour in short bursts, but they usually travel between three to eight kilometers (three to five miles) per hour.


Q. How far can manatees swim in a day?
A.
It depends on the individual manatee. Just like humans, some manatees are more predisposed to traveling than others. Some manatees are being tracked using a satellite transmitter. As a result, researchers have been able to record some interesting manatee movements. One manatee made a 321-kilometer (200-mile) trip from Brevard County to Port Everglades in less than 10 days. Another manatee moved between Fernandina Beach and Brevard County, Florida seven times, making this 241-kilometer (150-mile) trip in less than four days on at least one occasion. She swan nearly 72 kilometers (45 miles) per day and traveled into the Atlantic Ocean and along the beach for several portions of the journey. Another manatee named Chessie traveled all the way from Florida to Rhode Island and back! These long-distance movements had not previously be documented for individual manatees.


Q. How do they get prepared for the long journey?
A.
Manatees don't really need to get prepared for the journey, because they find their food source (seagrass and other aquatic plants) along the way.


Q. How deep can manatees go in the water?
A.
Manatees prefer waters that are about one to two meters (three to seven feet) deep. Manatees are found in both salt and fresh water. Along the coast, manatees tend to travel in water that is about three to five meters (10-16 feet) deep, and they are rarely seen in areas over six meters (20 feet) deep.


Q. How long can manatees stay underwater?
A.
Manatees may rest submerged at the water bottom or just below the surface, coming up to breathe on the average of every three to four minutes. When manatees are using a great deal of energy, they may surface to breathe as often as every 30 seconds. However, they have been known to stay submerged for up to 20 minutes.


Q. What do manatees do during a hurricane?
A.
Researchers believe that manatees are well adapted to the aquatic environment and often seek sheltered waters during rough conditions.


Q. Why are manatees attracted to the sound of motors?
A.
They aren't. Research has shown that they actually avoid them, when they can. In fact, videotape from the Florida Marine Research Institute clearly documents manatees reacting to the sound of approaching boats at various speeds.


Q. Is it possible to teach manatees to do tricks? If yes, what tricks can they perform?
A.
Manatees are definitely smart enough to train. They don't have convolutions on the surface of their brain that are usually associated with higher intelligence. However, they have a higher gray matter to white matter ratio than any other mammal known, including humans! Since gray matter is the area of the brain where thinking occurs, it could be that manatees are a lot smarter even than us! More research needs to be done to understand the composition of manatee brains and how it relates to their intelligence. As far as what tricks they can perform, we think the manatee's ability to survive in a hostile environment is a pretty neat trick in itself!






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