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NAME: West Indian Manatees, species name Trichechus Manatus. Also called sea cows. Ancient mariners used to confuse manatees with walruses, seals and mermaids. They share common ancestry with elephants.SIZE: Manatees can grow to 13 feet long and can weigh up to 3,500 pounds. The average manatee is just under 10 feet and weighs 800 to 1,200 pounds. Female manatees tend to be larger and weigh more.

APPEARANCE: Manatees have thick gray or brown skin with young animals appearing slightly darker. They are large, seal-shaped animals with small eyes and stiff whiskers on their upper lip. Their flat tails are used for propulsion, and they have small forelimbs. Many wild manatees have scars on their backs, and tails from boat propeller wounds.

APPETITE: Manatees are herbivorous and can eat up to 100 pounds of water weeds a day.

STAMINA: Manatees are air-breathing mammals that surface to breathe every minute or two when at rest. They can stay underwater for 12 to 20 minutes at a time. When sleeping, they lie on the bottom and surface every few minute for a breath.

AGE: The air-breathing mammals have a life span comparable to people. Female manatees reach sexual maturityu between 6 and 9 years of age, and males reach sexual maturity from 5 to 9 years of age.

RANGE: At one time, they could be found along coasts of LGeorgia, Texas, the Bahamas and Mexico. Now they are found almost exclusively along the Florida coast during the winter months.

NUMBERS: Scientists estimate that there are at least 1,200 manatees. In Citrus County waters, a record 286 manatees were counted in December 1989.

HABITS: Very gentle, slow-moving animals, manatees are often shy and reclusive. Some seem to enjoy contact with humans. Most of their time is spent eating, resting and traveling.

SENSES: While their depth perception may be limited, manatees can distinguish symbols, signs, shapes and colors. They also can hear very well despite the absence of external lobes.

Information from Dr. Jesse White, Save The Manatee Club and Florida Power and Light manatee publications.