Manatees in the Ichetucknee River in Florida

Swimming with the sea cows
Manatees in the Ichetucknee River in Florida © Jennifer Adler/Alam

In observance of Manatee Awareness Month, we’re swimming through a clear Florida river with these friendly sea cows. Generally solitary animals, they are also known to be curious and will approach boats. That's why the US state enforces special speed zones for watercraft, particularly as the manatees are on the move to warmer areas to spend their winter. While manatees have no known natural predators, they remain a vulnerable species due to loss of habitat and collisions with boats.

Most Florida manatees live in shallow and marshy coastal areas where they feed on sea grass, mangrove leaves, and algae. The ocean’s largest herbivore, 'sea cows' nosh on greenery for almost half the day. And what could be better than a nap after all that munching? Manatees will often sleep underwater for the other half of the day, coming to the surface for air for 20-minute intervals and grazing for food again in shallow waters. While they may not look it, manatees are actually pretty smart. They've been known to learn basic tasks, recognise people, and differentiate colours.