Manatees in the Boat Canal

Over the past couple of days, two pair of manatees have been feeding and lolling about in the boat canal of our condo complex on Longboat Key.  Likely females with their calves, they are among the 6600 Florida manatees that inhabit coastal waters, bays and estuaries of the Southeastern U.S., from the Carolinas to Texas.  During the winter months, most retreat to Florida while, in summer, they have turned up as far north as Cape Cod.

Listed as endangered in 1967, when their wild population was estimated to be 600, Florida manatees have recently been downgraded to "threatened" by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.  While increased awareness of their plight and stricter boating restrictions have allowed their population to rebound, these large aquatic herbivores remain susceptible to coastal water pollution and careless boaters.

Known as "sea cows" since they graze on a wide assortment of marine and tidewater plants, manatees are actually more closely related to elephants (see Sea Elephants).  Florida manatees are rather solitary creatures for most of the year and are able to breed by age four; nevertheless, most females do not mate until they are seven or older and calves (usually single) often stay with their mother for two years.  Common in Sarasota Bay (especially during the colder months), their appearance always commands attention and their calm, peaceful demeanor seems to infect those of us who watch them.