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Overall, manatees appear slow moving and cumbersome, but they are graceful and can be swift underwater. Manatees usually travel at about 5 miles per hour (8 kilometers per hour), but in a pinch they can pick up the pace to 15 miles per hour (24 kilometers per hour).

Manatees make a living eating underwater grasses. They can munch 100 to 150 pounds of greens a day! In fact, the West Indian manatee was such a good grazer, it was introduced to the Panama Canal in the 1960s to aid in weed control.

That population increased and extended its range to the Pacific Ocean. In addition to grasses, manatees also eat algae and can consume a tenth of their body weight in plant matter within 24 hours.

A female manatee may be “courted” by a dozen males (called bulls) in a mating herd. Once he has mated, he takes no part in raising the calf, which is born underwater about 12 months later.

The mother helps the little one rise to the surface for air after birth; it will be able to swim on its own after about an hour. The calves nurse for about 18 months while mom feasts on water grasses, weeds, and algae. The youngster will become mature at about five years old; they can live 40 to 60 years.

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