The Majesty of Sea Cows; The Manatee
One of the gentlest souls makes an appearance in Charleston in the warmer months and they are just as magical to see in person as you could imagine! Today we are going to be talking about manatees and their visits into the waters of Charleston!
Welcome back, adventurers! Have you gone off the beaten path lately? Have you caught a glimpse of a loggerhead sea turtle mama making her way to the beach to lay her eggs? Have you gone paddleboarding or kayaking under some of the oldest trees in the world? Have you learned how to find the perfect shark teeth or identify fossils on the beach? Have you watched the sunrise on Boneyard beach? You can do all of this and more with us at Coastal Expeditions! No matter what kind of adventure you want to go on, we are here to supply you with a little bit of wonder, education, and an amazing view (or two!) where ever you decide your next adventure is going to take you! We are here to make your biggest adventures a reality and can’t wait for you to join us soon!
With the summer temperatures really settling in here on the Lowcountry, we’ve begun seeing some of our favorite animals and plants appear on our shores again. While some of them are native to the Lowcountry’s shores, some only make an appearance under perfect circumstances! Our Instagram followers will have seen that we had an extra special guest that visited our Shem Creek headquarters for a light lunch, a very real and very adorable manatee! You will see these majestic beauties appear when the water is nice and warm, munching as much as they can. Today, we are dedicating our blog to the manatee to help spread awareness about them in the waters of Charleston and to keep them as safe as possible! Before we get started, we do want to emphasize that all boaters need to be extremely careful when going through the creek or shallow waters. Please keep your eyes open for a manatee close by and avoid them as much as possible. For everyone else, please give them tons of space, and please don’t touch them. Just admire them from afar instead! Let’s learn a little more about manatees and their appearances in Charleston!
Once mistaken for mermaids by sailors of many years past, these gentle giants spend their days slowly floating through the water hunting for seagrass and other vegetation to enjoy. They are usually found in coastal waters and rivers that are nice and warm. The West Indian Manatee is the manatee that we are the most familiar with and who appears in our waters every year. The southeastern United States, the Caribbean, and Central America are where these manatees spend most of their time. These huge mammals can grow to be 10 feet long and weigh between 800 and 1200 pounds and can live to be between 40 and 60 years old. They are related to the Dugong, the Amazonian Manatee, and the West African Manatee. The order they belong to is very unique. They belong to the Sirenia order and their closest relatives are the elephant and the hyrax. Each animal is very different and is very different in size, but there is geological evidence that each evolved from the same distant relative. One of the most recent ancestors of the manatee, according to National Geographic, was the Stellar’s Sea Cow. This Sea Cow was much larger than the manatees we know today, growing up to be 30 feet long. Sadly, it only took thirty years after its discovery to completely wipe out this majestic species.
A manatee can swim up to 15mph but it prefers to lumber along at about 5mph looking for aquatic plants to eat or fresh water to drink. They can stay submerged underwater for up to 5 minutes before having to resurface for air. Every time they take a breath they’re able to fill up 90% of their lungs, which is very impressive compared to humans who are only able to fill up 10% of their lungs with every breath. Manatees can spend up to 8 hours every day hunting for and eating their favorite foods, their favorite daily activity. The manatee chews so much and so often that their teeth are constantly being replaced, very similar to shark’s teeth, which we’ve talked about in previous blogs. Manatees do not begin to be sexually active until they reach 5 years of age, but once they do their reproductive rate is still very low. Manatee mothers will only have a single calf every two years, with a gestation period of 13 months. Their calves will feed from mammary glands located behind their flippers and will stay with their mothers for up to two years. During these two years, mothers will teach their calves how and where to feed and where to find warm water.
Manatees have no natural predators and don’t share the same dangers that their extinct family members did, but that doesn’t mean they don’t face multiple different kinds of dangers every day. For a safe and prosperous future, humans will need to continue stepping in and protecting them as much as possible. While manatees live in brackish water or saltwater, they will still go hunting for freshwater for drinking, which exposes them to areas with a lot of boat activity. Boat collisions, propellers, and anchors can be fatal to manatees or cause very serious injury. Other dangers include loss of access to warm water (they need to be in water no cooler than 68 degrees) toxic algae blooms (also called the red tide) loss of habitat due to construction or pollution, ingesting or being caught in fishing line and nets, eating harmful litter, exposure to toxic waste, and much more. Thanks to continued help from conservation around the world, the population of manatees have gone up. However, even despite all of the help humans give, they are still considered a threatened species. We need to continue supporting and caring for these gentle creatures as much as we can!
Manatees In Charleston
While Charleston is not the main hub for manatees, when the water reaches at least 68 degrees or higher, there is a chance that you could spot one throughout the summer along our shores and in the creeks. They love to swim and eat in the shallow tidal creeks, where many boat ramps live. We encourage all of our adventurers to be extra mindful about this and to always check for manatees before starting their boats. Manatees are warm-weather visitors and will appear between May and November. If you see a manatee, please report it to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, especially if they have been injured.
Interactions With Manatees
While it is very tempting to want to approach and interact with a manatee, please keep your distance and fawn over them from afar. It is illegal to hunt, play with, or harass manatees, so please be respectful of these gentle giants. Harassing or playing with a manatee can cause it to be pushed into dangerous situations, and we want to avoid that as much as possible. When out on the water, please watch for large swirls of water, these are called manatee “footprints” and are a sign that one is close by and is swimming towards or away from you. When out on the water, wear polarized eyewear to help see manatees better in the water, these sunglasses will help remove any dangerous glare that could make you miss one swimming close to your boat. As always, heed every “slow speed” and “no wake” signs, and always check for manatees before you crank your engine!
We love our sea cows and we are looking forward to many appearances throughout the summer season. Spotting a manatee on all of our expeditions is one of the many summertime joys that all of us at Coastal expeditions look forward to! Come enjoy the beautiful Lowcountry outdoors with us and keep your eyes open, you might spot a manatee or two with your very own eyes! Are you looking for nature tours, kayak rentals, paddleboard rentals, island tours, kid-friendly tours, and chances to explore all around you right here in the Lowcountry? We can help you with all of that and more! Until next time, get out there and explore! Adventure awaits!