Often times a trip to the beach translates into the average American crossing paths with a seal or sealion. It comes as no surprise that more often than not, Americans associate the types of marine mammals present in their local ecosystem with them.
With a bit of nudging, the average American also vaguely associates marine mammals with a Florida favorite, the manatee. In fact, some Floridans also cross paths with them on a daily basis. And while three different manatee species (family Trichechidae) swim in the temperate and sub-tropical fresh salt waters of the Atlantic ,Ocean, the West Indian Manatee (Trichechus manatus) inhabits the warm coastal waters of Florida, the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean along the coast of eastern South America.
Known as gentle animals, Florida Manatees (Trichechus manatus latirostris), a subspecies of the West Indian Manatee, live along both of Florida’s coasts. On average, they can grow over ten feet long and weight about one thousand pounds. That means the manatee, an herbivore, must invest most of its time consuming large amounts of local grass and plant. Experts estimate that a manatee can eat one hundred pounds of feed each day.
The manatee’s preference for the warm coastal and river waters around Florida means they compete with Florida’s boaters for water space. The competition often turns deadly because the manatee’s soft body usually can not stand up to contact with a boat’s propellers.
Florida wildlife experts estimate that over one-quarter of manatee deaths are caused by boating accidents, and they constantly monitor manatee migrations in order to provide boaters with warnings of their presence.
Seals and Sealions
Most beach goers care little about differences between seals and sealions. However, for clarity sake, seals and Sealions divide into two families, the eared and earless.
Fur Seals and Sea Lions (family Otariidae) constitute the eared seals, and two species, the Stellar Sea Lion and the California Sea Lion represent the eared species domestically.
Stellar sea lions (Eu metopias jubatus), also called Northern sea lions, the largest eared seals, inhabit cold ocean water and rocky beaches typical of many areas of the West Coast from Northern California to Alaska.) Males can grow over ten feet long and weigh well over a ton (2,000 pounds). Calling them Northern sea lions helps identify them as the cold water sea lions. A dramatic population decline led to their being listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act in 1990.
California Sea Lions (Zalophus californianus), warm water marine mammals, breed along coastal areas. During nonbreeding season, they migrate as far north as Alaska in search of food. Social animals, they often congregate in large groups.
Earless seals formally fit into the family Phocidae, and are considered top notch swimmers.
Formally nineteen species represent the group, and in the United States,earless seal often means Harbor seal (Phoca vitulina), the most common species.
Sometimes called sea dogs, their disposition appears that of a family pet, You often find them fishing close to shore or around harbors and other areas where fishermen bring home their catch of the day.
Elephant seals, the largest Phocidae, consist of two species, the northern elephant seal (Mirounga angustirostris) and the southern elephant seal (Mirounga leonina). While size may partially account for their name, the male’s extended nose, which resembles an elephant’s trunk, better explains the elephant name.
When the talk turns to Walrus often it gets introduced by mention of the three subspecies that live in the cold water oceans in and around the Arctic Ocean. The scientific name for Odobenus rosmarus means tooth-walking sea-horse, referring to tusks present on both males and females. The tusks serve a variety of purposes such as helping them navigate on ice and land. Males also use their tusks for territorial defense.
The walrus’s great size and tusks have long served as a source of food and trophy for both native Eskimo and non-native hunters.
Pacific Walrus males, the largest walrus, can grow twelve feet long and weigh up to eight hundred pounds. Their tusks can grow over three feet in length.
From the seventeenth century to the mid-twentieth century, walrus hunting, along with whale hunting, occupied a substantial portion of most large-scale western commercial fleets.
Today the Atlantic population remains at low levels, and concerns are voiced that melting Arctic Sea Ice, the traditional Walrus breeding ground, could place stress on an otherwise recovered Pacific population.