15 Things You Didn't Know About Manatees

Distant relatives of elephants, manatees love sea grass and lounging in warm springs. Dai Mar Tamarack/Shutterstock

The manatee is the gentle giant of the ocean. Thanks to conservation efforts over the years, the West Indian manatee — that's the one you see in Florida — was removed in March 2017 from the endangered species list. Take a look at some of the cool and little-known facts about this species and others in the manatee family.

1. Only so many manatee species

Today there are three manatee species found in the world: the Amazonian (Trichechus inunguis), the West African (Trichechus senegalensis) and the West Indian (Trichechus manatus).

2. Bigger than you might think

Two manatees swimming together
Manatees graze on the sea bottom. fzd.it/Shutterstock

Manatees can reach up to 13 feet long (depending on the species) and weigh up to 3,500 pounds.

3. Grazers of the sea

Manatees are herbivores, and most of their diet is made up of plant matter. One of their favorite things to eat is sea grass.

4. Moo-natees!

Amazonian manatee
An Amazonian manatee relaxes on an aquarium's surface. guentermanaus/Shutterstock

Sea cow is also a name for a manatee.

5. Copious chompers

Manatees have four rows of teeth, which include about 24 to 32 teeth total. They lose and replace these teeth often.

6. Lots of family time

Manatee calf and mother
(Photo: Liquid Productions, LLC/Shutterstock)

Mother manatees are pregnant for about a year. Once the babies are born — they are born directly into the water — it takes another year to year and a half for them to be on their own.

7. Not in a rush

Most of the time, manatees only move at a pace of a couple of miles per hour. However, they can reach up to 20 miles per hour if needed.

8. Over a century of protection

A warning sign regarding manatees in the area
Conservation efforts and awareness of the manatees' habitats have increased the sea creatures' population. Tim Donovan/Florida Fish and Wildlife/Flickr

Officials have been trying to protect manatees for a long time. The first laws to protect them in the United States were passed in 1893 in Florida. At one time, there were only about 1,000 West Indian manatees alive, but now there are more than 6,000.

9. Get a lungful of that

Get ready to be impressed by the lungs of manatees. They can stretch almost the entire length of their body.

10. Fans of warm springs

Manatees gather in the King Spring in Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge on a cold day
Manatees will gather at warm springs on particularly cold days, including the King Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge. The spot was set aside specifically for manatees to warm up during the winter. Joyce Kleen/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters/Wikimedia Commons

During winter and when temperatures are cooler, manatees will gather in groups as they seek out warm-water sources. These warm-water refuges are typically warm-water discharges from power plant and natural springs, or basins that temporarily trap warm water. In this video, manatees huddles in a canal in Tampa when the temperature drops.

11. Any water will do

Since they often go in shallow water, it's common for manatees to move between fresh water and salt water.

12. Surprising family tree

Elephants are distant relatives of manatees.

13. At one with nature

A West Indian manatee covered in algae
Manatees don't mind a little algae on their bodies. Ramos Keith/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Wikimedia Commons

If you get a chance to see a manatee in the wild, you might notice it has algae growing on it. Don't worry! The algae doesn't hurt them. It might even help protect them from the sun.

14. Plenty of air

When they go underwater, manatees can hold their breath for up to 20 minutes.

15. Solo swimmers

Aggregation is the name for a group of manatees. They don't tend to gather in large groups, though. They usually travel alone or in pairs, but sometimes there will be as many as six together at once.