manatee baby and momphoto: psyberartist via flickr 

These aquatic giants are gentle, clever and very, very big. Read on for some fun facts about the beloved manatee.

1. There are three species of Manatee (Trichechus). They are the West African manatee (T. senegalensis), the Amazonian manatee (T. inunguis) and the West Indian manatee (T. manatus). The West Indian manatee is the species seen frequenting the Florida Coast.

2. The common nickname for the manatee is the sea cow.

3. Manatees are believed to account for at least some of the early-explorer’s mermaid sightings.

4. They can reach 13-feet long and weigh as much as 3,000 pounds.

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5. But don’t be fooled by their size: they are gentle giants. They graze on water grasses, weeds and algae. They are the only aquatic herbivore.

6. In fact, an adult manatee can eat 1/10 of its weight in a day.

7. Manatees use their flippers to walk along the bottom of the body of water, feeling for food. When they find it, they scoop it up toward their mouths with their flipper.

8. Manatees are mammals, and they have one baby every two to five years. The babies are born underwater. Females are pregnant for about 1 year. The young nurse for 1-½-2 years.

9. Manatees live in the water but they need air to survive. They surface every few minutes when active and can stay under for as long as 20 minutes if still.

10. Babies need help getting up to the surface for their first breath. Shortly after birth they are able to swim on their own: usually within an hour.

11. Most mammals have seven neck vertebrae but the both the manatee and the sloth have just six. This means that manatees can’t turn their heads.

12. Besides the dugong, the manatee’s closest living relative is the elephant.

13. Manatees can actually swim up to 20 MPH.

14. Manatees face a number of dangers in their native waters: boating accidents can harm or even kill manatees and things like plastics in the water can cause health problems. You can learn more about how to protect manatees even if you live thousands of miles away, by visiting Save the Manatee. 

—Amber Guetebier

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