Manatees are large, slow moving marine mammals that are gentle in nature. There are three species of manatees, the Amazonian, the West Indian, and the West African. The West Indian manatee is found in waters along the coast of the southeastern United States and the Caribbean. The Florida Manatee is a subspecies of the West Indian manatee that lives in Florida, and up the southeastern coast into Georgia and the Carolinas. In the Gulf, Florida manatees can be sighted as far west as Texas. It is during the winter that manatees are most often found in the warm waters of South Florida.
- The Florida manatee is on average about 10 feet in length and weighs 1,200 pounds. Their calves are much smaller at about four feet and only 66 pounds.
- Manatees can live in fresh, brackish, and salt water that is around 68 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Like other mammals, they breathe air, in their case coming up every five minutes for a breathe, but they can hold air for up to 20 minutes when resting.
- They rest from two to 12 hours a day, for many hours at a time. Manatees spend a third of their day grazing on sea grasses and other aquatic plants.
- Manatees swim slowly at three to five miles per hour on average. They use their flippers and tail to steer themselves forward.
- Female manatees (cows) reach maturity in 3-5 years males (bulls) reach maturity in five to seven years. The calf usually stays with the cow for up to 2 years. The bull does not stay with the family unit and leaves the cow after breeding.
- Manatees can live up to 60 years but only about half make it to adulthood in the wild.
Manatees are on the endangered species list meaning that they could possibly become extinct.They are protected by federal law under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 and the Mammal Protection Act of 1972. West Indian manatees have special protections in Florida by the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act of 1978. Violations of these federal or state laws can be met with civil or criminal convictions associated with monetary fines and/or imprisonment.
Manatees are on the endangered species list for several reasons: a high mortality rate brought on by habiting cold waters for extended periods; a birth rate is much lower than the death rate of manatees; and, human interaction such as motorized watercraft strikes. Manatees may also get trapped or crushed in flood gates and locks, and ingest fish hooks, lines, and nets.
No Wake Zones
There are two types of No Wake Zones in Fort Lauderdale and throughout the State of Florida: Vessel Speed Restrictions and Manatee Protection Zones.
The first, Vessel Speed Restrictions, restrict hazard to others on the water. There are two types. In an “Idle Speed-No Wake” zone, vessels must operate at a minimum speed that allows the vessel to maintain headway and steerageway. In the second, the "Slow Down - Minimum Wake," marine travelers must operate fully off-plane and completely settled in the water.
The second No Wake Zone is the Manatee Protection Zone established to restrict speed and operation of vessels in specific areas. These protect manatees from collisions with vessels and from harassment from humans. In these areas, rules can prohibit entry and limit the types of activities that occur in the area.