Crystal River Florida
Popular Habitat of the West Indian Manatee
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Manatees use the upper Crystal River area as a refuge to escape the cold.

Manatees get sanctuary in Florida

Manatees have a new sanctuary to resort to when they are feeling harassed by eager tourists at Three Sisters Spring at Kings Bay in Crystal River, Fla., reports the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The sanctuary, which was set aside on a temporary, emergency basis last November, covers less than one-fourth of an acre. It allows manatees to retreat from people during their  long winter stay in the area. All waterborne activities are prohibited in the area from Nov. 15 through March 31 of each year.

The sanctuaries were created after the Fish and Wildlife Service received numerous reports of harassment for concerned citizens, researchers and wildlife managers. Currently, there are six manatee sanctuaries in the Crystal River's headwaters at Kings Bay that protect approximately 39 acres of essential manatee habitat. The sanctuaries were created to provide manatees areas where they could retreat from people during their winter-long stay in the area. According to the USFWS, Kings Bay is the most important winter refuge for manatees on Florida's west coast. More than 250 manatees are known to winter here and the manatee population is slowly increasing.

Crystal River dive shop owners and marina operators inform their customers about the crucial importance of such things as observing boat speed limits in manatee zones, not feeding manatees, and avoiding interaction that disrupts the species' normal patterns of activity. Local dive shop operators provide their customers with videos and handouts that describe "manatee-friendly" ways to interact with manatees.


DESCRIPTION : Large, seal-like body that tapers to a powerful flat tail. Two agile forelimbs with
three to four toenails on each, which act like arms to help the manatee maneuver in shallow water, grasp
and move food toward their mouths, and act like flippers during swimming. Thick and wrinkled skin with
a rough texture - a bit jiggly under the neck and arms. Their skin reacts to touch, as their bodies are very
muscular, contracting and changing shape slightly when scratched or tickled. Powerful upper lips which
articulate to help maneuver food or dig through sediment.

SIZE : Average 9 to 10 feet long, weighing around 1,000 lbs.. Can grow as large as 13 feet and weigh
more than 3,000 lbs. Calves are born weighing about 40 lbs, gaining about 700 lbs. during their first year.

BEHAVIOR : Gentle and slow-moving. Most of the time is spent eating vegetation (100-150 lbs. per day),
resting, and traveling. On average manatees can travel about 40 to 50 miles a day, sometimes farther. Chessie, the famed manatee rescued from the cold waters of the Chesapeake Bay and returned to Florida, was tagged with a locating device which showed he traveled as far as Rhode Island during hot summer months.

SIGHT : Some people believe Manatees are near-sighted, or may have limited depth perception. It is
believed that they can differentiate between colors. It is unclear how manatees navigate in pitch black or
murky waters - when their eyesight would be of no use. They do have sparse body hair over their bodies,
and thick whiskers on their faces. It is not clear if this aids in navigation. One expert is convinced
however, that they know exactly where swimmers are, even in black-out conditions.

HEARING : Manatees can hear very well despite the absence of external ear lobes. They are not
believed to have the capabilities of echo-location.

COMMUNICATIONS : Emit sounds that are within human auditory range. They make sounds such as
squeaks and squeals when frightened, playing, or communicating, particularly between cow and calf. No
air is released from the manatee when these sounds are made, and it is not clear where the sounds are
being produced or if they serve any other purpose.

BREATHING : Manatees are mammals and breath air through their noses at the surface - with nostrils
which close tightly when submerged. They breath every few minutes when active or swimming, and every
10 to 15 minutes when resting. They are capable of exchanging 98% of their lungs capacity in one breath.
Their lungs are very large, and are also used for buoyancy control. The rushing sound of a deep exhale and
breath sound much like a snorkler. This sound, and the associated "footprint" left by the manatees tail and
body at the surface are clues which reveal the presence of manatees in the area.

HABITAT AND FOOD : Manatees are found in costal waterways, estuaries, salt-water bays, rivers and
canals, particularly where seagrass beds are located. Manatees are completely herbivorous and can eat 10-15% of their body weight daily. In captivity they are fed lettuce and other greens, and given elephant vitamins.

REPRODUCTION : Females mature around 5 to 9 years of age, and males not until 6 to 9 years of age.
It is believed that one calf is born every 2 to 5 years. Twins are rare in the wild. Gestation period is around
13 months. Newborns weigh approximately 40 pounds at birth and stay with the mother for several years.

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