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Florida Manatee

Trichechus manatus latirostris

Manatees are large, gray aquatic mammals that sometimes visit the Chesapeake Bay's shallow waters. (Tracy Colson/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
Manatees are large, gray aquatic mammals that sometimes visit the Chesapeake Bay's shallow waters. (Tracy Colson/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

The Florida manatee is a large, gray aquatic mammal that occasionally visits the Chesapeake Bay’s shallow waters in summer.


  • Thick, grayish skin
  • Sparse hairs all over the body
  • Front flippers have jointed bones and 3-4 nails at the ends
  • Flexible, double-lobed upper lip covered with whiskers
  • Large, fan-like tail
  • Small, widely set eyes
  • Grows about 9-10 feet long and weighs 800-2,200 pounds. Females are larger than males.


  • Found in warm, shallow waters, including creeks, bays, rivers and canals
  • Prefers water that is approximately 10-16 feet deep
  • Often swims close to the water’s surface
  • Tolerates fresh, brackish and salt water
  • Moves to warmer areas when water temperatures fall below 68 degrees
  • Usually lives alone, but sometimes forms pairs or small groups of less than a dozen



  • Feeds on bay grasses such as coontail, eelgrass, hydrilla and Eurasian watermilfoil
  • Eats approximately 8-10 percent of its body weight every day
  • Uses its specialized lips to grasp plants and pass food into its mouth


  • Very few natural predators
  • Humans are manatees’ greatest threat. Manatees can become tangled in fishing nets or accidentally hit by boat propellers.

Reproduction and Life Cycle:

  • Males form mating herds of up to 20 manatees. The herd pursues a female that is ready to reproduce.
  • The gestation period lasts 12-14 months
  • Females gives birth to a single calf, which is usually able to swim within an hour
  • Calves depend on their mothers for about two months. They drink her milk for about three weeks before starting to eat plants.
  • Usually lives about 8-11 years in the wild, but can live up to 60 years

Other Facts:

  • Also known as sea cows
  • Like all other mammals, manatees breathe air from the atmosphere. They can stay underwater for about 15 minutes when they are resting, but when they are active they must resurface for air every 3-4 minutes.
  • Manatees move very slowly. They usually swim about 5 miles per hour, but can go faster for short periods of time.
  • Listed as an endangered species under the federal Endangered Species Act. Scientists estimate there may only be 2,500 manatees left in the United States.
  • If you ever see a manatee in the Chesapeake Bay, contact the National Aquarium’s Marine Animal Rescue Program to report your sighting. The aquarium monitors manatees in the Bay to help keep them safe.

Sources and Additional Information:

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