Manatee – Mermaids of Yore?
Stories about mermaids tell of creatures that have the head and body of a human and the tail of a fish. These stories may have come from people who saw manatees swimming and didn’t know what they were. From a distance manatees can look like a person who is swimming.
Manatee is a large marine mammal with a rounded, heavy gray body and a horizontally flattened tail. There are three species of manatee. An average manatee is 2.4 to 4 meters long and weighs 360 to 1,590 kilograms.
Manatee is a relative of the elephant.
It has a thick tough skin and is nearly hairless. Its nostrils are on the upper surface of its snout and can be tightly closed by valves when it is underwater.
They use their flexible flippers for eating, moving, touching, holding a nursing calf.
The manatee is the only marine mammal that feeds solely on vegetation. It eats a variety of aquatic plants and can consume up to 45 kilograms of food a day. It is often called a sea cow because it grazes on marine seagrass meadows.
A female manatee gives birth to one calf which continues to nurse from its mother for one to two years.
It lives in all types of water environments: fresh, brackish (slightly salty), and salt, but only in warm water. These animals may live alone or in groups of 15 to 20.
The life span of manatees is greater than 30 years.
People hunted manatees for centuries, using the animals’ flesh, bones (for medicine), and hide (for leather). All three types of manatee are declining in number.
Manatees differ sharply from their close relative, the dugong. Manatees have a rounded fluke, whereas dugongs have split flukes. Dugongs have tusks, which manatees lack, and the mode of tooth replacement in the two differs. Dugong skin is smoother than is the case for West African and West Indian manatees.
Dugongs range in size from 2.4 to 4 meters and weigh between 230 to 500 kilograms. They in the wild can live to be up to 70 years old.