Ending the week with the amazing Florida manatee. Not only are they the state marine mammal of Florida, I would argue that they are the coolest mammal in Florida, period.
This was my first time seeing a manatee in person (a mammal "lifer", if you will). While looking for manatees wasn't the main point of our New Year's trip to Florida, it was one of the priority targets for me. I did my research, and we went to the Manatee Observation and Education Center on the east coast of Florida, just south of Vero Beach. When we arrived, there were no manatees in sight. But a sea turtle did briefly pop its head up, which was super exciting! (My first US sea turtle!) Maybe 20 minutes later, a dark, shapeless shadow appeared in the water. A manatee! We ended up seeing two manatees, an adult first and then later a calf on its own (pictured).
The Florida manatee is a subspecies of West Indian manatee. They prefer warm waters -- the Manatee Observation and Education Center is strategically placed at a thermal outfall from a power plant, where manatees congregate in the winter. Manatees grow up to 10-12 feet (3-3.7 m) in length and 1500-1800 lbs (680-820 kg). They are gentle, slow-moving giants that eat only vegetation.