Q: How big do they get?
SW: Florida manatees average 10 ft. (3 m) and weigh 800 - 1,200 lb. (363 to 544 kg). Amazonian manatees are the smallest of all three species. They are shorter and more slender. The longest specimen measured 9 ft. (2.8 m). A large individual weighed about 1,050 lb. (480 kg).
Q: What are some legends about them?
SW: Manatees belong to the mammalian order Sirenia. Believe it or not, they were once thought to be the mythological sirens that would sing out to sailors in order to lure the doomed crew into wrecking their boats along rocky shorelines. Another legend that grew from manatees is the story of mermaids. Of course, manatees are neither sirens nor mermaids, but rather gentle, non-territorial marine mammals that are found in just a few parts of the world.
Q: Where are they found?
SW: Manatees inhabit the tropical and sub-tropical waters of North and South America and Africa. The West Indian and West African manatees live in rivers, bays, estuaries, and coastal areas. They can move freely between freshwater and saltwater habitats. The Amazonian manatee is restricted to the freshwater Amazon basin.
Q: Are they endangered?
SW: All manatees are either threatened or endangered, and they are protected in every country where they are found. That protection came too late for Steller's sea cow, a close manatee relative once found in the North Pacific. The Steller's sea cow was hunted to extinction by 1768, a mere 27 years after they were first discovered.
Q: What are the threats they face?
SW: Preventable problems hurt many manatees. SeaWorld has rescued hundreds of endangered manatees, including some that lost flippers when entangled in super strong fishing line. Slow-moving manatees can also be hit by fast-moving boats.
Q: What can we do to help?
SW: Don't miss the boat when it comes to saving manatees - slow down and watch for wildlife. Also, clean up waterways, recycle fishing line and never feed wild animals like manatees or even give them a drink from a garden hose.