Creature Feature: Mermaids?

Image supplied by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

For many centuries the existence of mermaids has sparked debates, controversies and myths. Sailors would tell tales of these beautiful creatures that they viewed from a distance.  Are they real? Well, the ocean is huge and people can always dream. There are multiple creatures that could be mistaken for this mythical creature. Manatees (Trichechus manatus lattirostris) are one of the common ones that are found in Florida.  They live in warm waters and can be found where artesian springs flow and industrial discharge drains into the ocean.

These meandering marine mammals are gray, but can sometimes appear greenish-brown due to algae growth on their skin and short fur. Their two front limbs are used for moving and holding. Their strong tail provides power to propel them through the water.

Manatees give birth in the water; after birthing a pup, the cow (female) guides it to the surface for its first breath. When they are young, pups will feed on their mother’s milk, but when they are adults, they are voracious herbivores and will feed on aquatic plants. Manatees are known to spend eight hours a day grazing, and they consume 10% of their body weight (which could be as high as 1300 pounds!)

Image supplied by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Boat speeding through manatee idle zone

Manatees are slow-moving, and “friendly” personalities; as a result, they are vulnerable animals. People use to hunt these sociable creatures for their hides, and the manatee population decreased. They became a protected species in 1893. They are now protected by Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act, Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species act. There are, however some threats that continue to harm manatees. Boats and fishing nets/lines can hit or entangle these creatures causing injury or death.

Additionally, waterfront development causes damage to the seagrasses that manatees eat, affects water quality, and reduces warm water output from natural springs. Only half of young manatees are expected to live into their early 20s, whereas healthy adults can live as long as 40 years in the wild.


What can you do to help these real-life “mermaids”?

Check out these sites to find out and tell us your ideas!



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