Charismatic Megafauna (Manatee)– Kiawah’s Summer Visitor



First manatee of the 2013 season has been has spotted in Charleston waters. When one thinks of manatees, an image of sea grass beds in Florida appears in the mind. However, the range of these Florida sea cows extends into the Georgia and South Carolina coasts during the summer due to warmer water temperatures. Manatees can withstand water temperatures of 68 degrees Fahrenheit before the animal is stressed from the cold temperatures. They frequently migrate through shallow estuaries to freshwater springs in search of seagrass and other vegetation. Most scientists agree that manatees must periodically have access to freshwater, which is why it is common to see fishermen spraying manatees with a hose. Manatees are often found drinking freshwater from storm drain outfalls and gathering at river mouths.

Manatees are large mammals that grow to be about 10 feet long and weigh between 800 and 1200 pounds. They spend most of their time eating, resting, and traveling. Trichechus manatus is known to migrate large distances along the Eastern coast of the United States in search of food. Manatees are mostly herbivorous, consuming sea grass, algae, and mangrove leaves using their two front flippers. They consume about four to nine percent of their body weight daily, devoting about six to eight hours to eating every day. Manatees breathe air through their nostrils, and must come up for air three to four times while swimming. As they submerge, their nostrils close automatically and are capable of holding their breath for 15 minutes.

On occasion, manatees can be found swimming in and around the Kiawah River. So next time you are kayaking down the Kiawah River, keep your eyes out for a large gray figure, for it may be a manatee coming up for air.