You're probably already a manatee fan. If not, here are 22 reasons to become one.

Manatees are awesome.

Roly-poly pacifists, tropical underwater munch-machines, they look like something a kid would make out of Play-Doh. But there's a lot of cool stuff about them you might not know.

In the name of sea cows everywhere, here are 22 interesting facts about manatees.


1. There are three different species of manatee (and one dugong).

Image from psyberartist/Flickr.

There's the Amazonian manatee, the West Indian manatee, and the West African manatee. No points for guessing where each of them lives. They also have a single cousin, the dugong, which lives in the Indian and western Pacific oceans.

2. Their closest living relatives are elephants and hyraxes.

What a weird family. Images from U.S. Geological Survey, Oliver Wright, and Josski/Wikimedia Commons.

They split off over 50 million years ago though, so don't expect to see them all at the same family reunion.

3. Manatees love the tropics.

Image from pelican/Wikimedia Commons.

Though they look chubby, they don't have all that much fat, so they prefer swimming in warm water.

4. They've got big bellies...

Image from NASA/Wikimedia Commons.

Manatees are plant eaters, like horses, so their stomach and guts have evolved to digest tough plant matter. Up to 20% of their weight can come from their bellies alone.

5. ...and even bigger appetites.

Image from Eric Kilby/Flickr.

Open the buffet! Manatees chow down on about 10% of their body weight a day. That means a 1,000-pound manatee will eat about 100 pounds of plants every day!

6. They never have to visit a dentist, either.

OK, technically this one is a dugong. You got me. Image from Julien Willem/Wikimedia Commons.

Manatees replace their teeth throughout their lives. Their diet is pretty tough on their teeth (partly because they end up chewing on a lot of sand as they eat), so as their molars get worn down, new ones grow up behind them. It's like a conveyor belt of teeth.

7. Their pregnancies last a pretty long time.

This lil' baby is getting a drink. Manatee teats are located behind their arms. Image from USFWS/Wikimedia Commons.

A manatee is pregnant for about 12 months — that's not quite as long as the 22-month pregnancy of their distant relatives, the elephants, but it's longer than a human's nine! Their babies usually stick around for a year or two after the mom gives birth.

8. Once upon a time, people may have thought manatees were mermaids.

Image from U.S. Geological Survey/Wikimedia Commons.

Might be hard to believe, but it's true! Even people on Columbus' journey to North America got confused:

"On the previous day [Jan. 8, 1493], when the Admiral went to the Rio del Oro [in Haiti], he said he quite distinctly saw three mermaids, which rose well out of the sea; but they are not so beautiful as they are said to be, for their faces had some masculine traits."
"Voyages of Columbus," page 218

The name for their scientific order — Sirenia — even comes from the sirens of Greek mythology who are sometimes described as mermaids.

9. They may also be named after breasts. Yes, breasts.

Image from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Endangered Animals/Flickr.

When Columbus got to the Caribbean, he found the Taíno people already living there. Their word for breast – manatí – is probably the origin of the animal's English name.

10. They're pretty slow...

Image from Jim Reid/Wikimedia Commons.

Manatees usually plod along at about 3-5 mph, although they can get up to 20 mph if they really try.

11. ...and they can get pretty old...

Snooty getting a birthday "cake" made of fruits and vegetables. Image from Netweave/Wikimedia Commons.

Snooty the manatee, who lives in the South Florida Museum's Parker Manatee Aquarium, is a venerable 67 years old.

12. ...but they're not dumb.

A curious young manatee inspects a kayak. Image from mwanner/Wikimedia Commons.

Manatees have relatively small brains for their bodies, but some scientists actually think it's the other way around — they have huge bodies for their brains! And some research has shown that they might be as good at experimental tasks as dolphins. They just look kind of dumb because they're a lot slower.

13. They used to have huge cousins.

Image from Biodiversity Heritage Library/Wikimedia Commons.

In the 18th century, explorers scouting around Alaska found 30-foot-long dugongs living in the Arctic waters. Known as Steller's sea cows, they ate the kelp that grew in the icy water.

Unfortunately, they went extinct soon afterward. Sailors discovered that, in addition to being huge, they were also delicious. And it wasn't just Europeans — there's evidence that Native Americans hunted them too.

14. They have no natural predators.

Image from Tanjila Ahmed/Flickr.

No other wild animal eats them. Good for them!

15. But that doesn't mean they're not in danger.

Whut? Image from Hans Stieglitz/Wikimedia Commons.

Though manatees are awesome, their populations have historically been dropping.

16. Humans are their biggest threat.

This manatee survived a run-in with a motor boat but bears the scars of its encounter. Image from Robert K. Bond/Wikimedia Commons.

Habitat loss is a big problem for manatees, as are run-ins with human objects or vehicles. Manatees can get stuck in fishing gear or accidentally eat fishing line. Motor boats are especially problematic, as manatees are too slow to get out of the way of their sharp propeller blades.

17. That's why the U.S. government protects them.

The Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge is home to many manatees. Image from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Endangered Species/Flickr.

Three different laws help protect them: the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, the Endangered Species Act of 1973, and the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act of 1978.

These laws make it illegal to kill or hurt a manatee in the United States.

18. Boating speed limits help too.

Image from Jim Reid/Wikimedia Commons.

Many waterways in manatee habitats now come with speed limits to give manatees time to get out of the way of propellers. People have also made manatee sanctuaries to make sure they have a home.

19. And there's good news: All those protections are starting to pay off.

Image from PublicDomainImages/Pixabay.

20. While there's still more work to be done, the number of manatees in the U.S. is starting to rise again.

Image from satemkemet/Flickr.

21. In fact, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service just proposed that the West Indian manatee should be moved to "Threatened" from "Endangered."

Image from NOAA's National Ocean Service/Flickr.

"The manatee's recovery is incredibly encouraging and a great testament to the conservation actions of many," Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast Regional Director Cindy Dohner said at a Miami Seaquarium event.

And don't worry – the manatees won't lose any of their protections.

22. They're a conservation success story!

Image from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Endangered Species/Flickr.

Now that's something to smile about!

They're living, breathing (and not to mention adorable) proof that we can make a difference for our friends in need.

Of course, it's not over yet. By spreading the word, we can help raise awareness about them, the other manatee species, and all the other animals who need our protection! Hopefully, all of them can continue their successful rebound — just like the West Indian manatee.

Since his first hit single "Keep Your Head Up" in 2011, award-winning multi-platinum recording artist Andy Grammer has made a name for himself as the king of the feel-good anthem. From "Good to Be Alive (Hallelujah)" to "Honey, I'm Good" to "Back Home" and more, his positive, upbeat songs have blared on beaches and at backyard barbecues every summer.

So what does a singer who loves to perform in front of live audiences and is known for uplifting music do during an unexpectedly challenging year of global pandemic lockdown?

He goes inward.

Grammer told Upworthy that losing the ability to perform during the pandemic forced him to look at where his self-worth came from. "I thought I would have scored better, to be honest," he says. "Like, 'Oh, I get it from all the important, right places!' And then it's taken all away in one moment, and you're like, 'Oh, nope, I was getting a lot from that.'

"It's kind of cool to break all the way down and then hopefully put myself back together in a way that's a little more solid," he says.

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Since his first hit single "Keep Your Head Up" in 2011, award-winning multi-platinum recording artist Andy Grammer has made a name for himself as the king of the feel-good anthem. From "Good to Be Alive (Hallelujah)" to "Honey, I'm Good" to "Back Home" and more, his positive, upbeat songs have blared on beaches and at backyard barbecues every summer.

So what does a singer who loves to perform in front of live audiences and is known for uplifting music do during an unexpectedly challenging year of global pandemic lockdown?

He goes inward.

Grammer told Upworthy that losing the ability to perform during the pandemic forced him to look at where his self-worth came from. "I thought I would have scored better, to be honest," he says. "Like, 'Oh, I get it from all the important, right places!' And then it's taken all away in one moment, and you're like, 'Oh, nope, I was getting a lot from that.'

"It's kind of cool to break all the way down and then hopefully put myself back together in a way that's a little more solid," he says.

Keep Reading Show less
True

Each year, an estimated 1.8 million people in the United States are affected by cancer — most commonly cancers of the breast, lung, prostate, and blood cancers such as leukemia. While not everyone overcomes the disease, thanks to science, more people are surviving — and for longer — than ever before in history.

We asked three people whose lives have been impacted by cancer to share their stories – how their lives were changed by the disease, and how they're using that experience to change the future of cancer treatments with the hope that ultimately, in the fight against cancer, science will win. Here's what they had to say.

Celine Ryan, 55, engineer database programmer and mother of five from Detroit, MI

Photo courtesy of Celine Ryan

In September 2013, Celine Ryan woke up from a colonoscopy to some traumatic news. Her gastroenterologist showed her a picture of the cancerous mass they found during the procedure.

Ryan and her husband, Patrick, had scheduled a colonoscopy after discovering some unusual bleeding, so the suspicion she could have cancer was already there. Neither of them, however, were quite prepared for the results to be positive -- or for the treatment to begin so soon. Just two days after learning the news, Ryan had surgery to remove the tumor, part of her bladder, and 17 cancerous lymph nodes. Chemotherapy and radiation soon followed.

Ryan's treatment was rigorous – but in December 2014, she got the devastating news that the cancer, once confined to her colon, had spread to her lungs. Her prognosis, they said, was likely terminal.

But rather than give up hope, Ryan sought support from online research, fellow cancer patients and survivors, and her medical team. When she brought up immunotherapy to her oncologist, he quickly agreed it was the best course of action. Ryan's cancer, like a majority of colon and pancreatic cancers, had been caused by a defect on the gene KRAS, which can result in a very aggressive cancer that is virtually "undruggable." According to the medical literature, the relatively smooth protein structure of the KRAS gene meant that designing inhibitors to bind to surface grooves and treat the cancer has been historically difficult. Through her support systems, Ryan discovered an experimental immunotherapy trial at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD., and called them immediately to see if she was eligible. After months of trying to determine whether she was a suitable candidate for the experimental treatment, Ryan was finally accepted.

The treatment, known as tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy, or TIL, is a testament to how far modern science has evolved. With this therapy, doctors remove a tumor and harvest special immune cells that are found naturally in the tumor. Doctors then grow the cells in a lab over the next several weeks with a protein that promotes rapid TIL growth – and once the cells number into the billions, they are infused back into the patient's body to fight the cancer. On April 1, 2015, Ryan had her tumor removed at the NIH. Two months later, she went inpatient for four weeks to have the team "wash out" her immune system with chemotherapy and infuse the cells – all 148 billion of them – back into her body.

Six weeks after the infusion, Ryan and Patrick went back for a follow-up appointment – and the news they got was stunning: Not only had no new tumors developed, but the six existing tumors in her lungs had shrunk significantly. Less than a year after her cell infusion, in April 2016, the doctors told Ryan news that would have been impossible just a decade earlier: Thanks to the cell infusion, Ryan was now considered NED – no evaluable disease. Her body was cancer-free.

Ryan is still NED today and continuing annual follow-up appointments at the NIH, experiencing things she never dreamed she'd be able to live to see, such as her children's high school and college graduations. She's also donating her blood and cells to the NIH to help them research other potential cancer treatments. "It was an honor to do so," Ryan said of her experience. "I'm just thrilled, and I hope my experience can help a lot more people."

Patrice Lee, PhD, VP of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Exploratory Development at Pfizer

Photo courtesy of Patrice Lee

Patrice Lee got into scientific research in an unconventional way – through the late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Lee never met Cousteau but her dreams of working with him one day led her to pursue a career in science. Initially, Lee completed an undergraduate degree in marine biology; eventually, her interests changed and she decided to get a dual doctoral degree in physiology and toxicology at Duke University. She now works at Pfizer's R&D site in Boulder, CO (formerly Array BioPharma), leading a group of scientists who determine the safety and efficacy of new oncology drugs.

"Scientists focused on drug discovery and development in the pharmaceutical industry are deeply committed to inventing new therapies to meet unmet needs," Lee says, describing her field of work. "We're driven to achieve new medicines and vaccines as quickly as possible without sacrificing safety."

Among the drugs Lee has helped develop during her career, including cancer therapies, she says around a dozen are currently in development, while nine have received FDA approval — an incredible accomplishment as many scientists spend their careers without seeing their drug make it to market. Lee's team is particularly interested in therapies for brain metastases — something that Lee says is a largely unmet need in cancer research, and something her team is working on from a variety of angles. "Now that we've had rapid success with mRNA vaccine technology, we hope to explore what the future holds when applying this technology to cancers," Lee says.

But while evaluating potential cancer therapies is a professional passion of Lee's, it's also a mission that's deeply personal. "I'm also a breast cancer survivor," she says. "So I've been on the other side of things and have participated in a clinical trial."

However, seeing how melanoma therapies that she helped develop have affected other real-life cancer patients, she says, has been a highlight of her career. "We had one therapy that was approved for patients with BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma," Lee recalls. "Our team in Boulder was graced by a visit from a patient that had benefited from these drugs that we developed. It was a very special moment for the entire team."

None of these therapies would be available, Lee says without rigorous science behind it: "Facts come from good science. Facts will drive the development of new drugs, and that's what will help patients."

Chiuying "Cynthia" Kuk (they/them) MS, 34, third-year medical student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Kuk

Cynthia Kuk was just 10 years old when they had a conversation that would change their life forever.

"My mother, who worked as a translator for the government at the time, had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and after her chemotherapy treatments she would get really sick," Kuk, who uses they/them pronouns, recalls. "When I asked my dad why mom was puking so much, he said it was because of the medicine she was taking that would help her get better."

Kuk's response was immediate: "That's so stupid! Why would a medicine make you feel worse instead of better? When I'm older, I want to create medicine that won't make people sick like that."

Nine years later, Kuk traveled from their native Hong Kong to the United States to do exactly that. Kuk enrolled in a small, liberal arts college for their Bachelor's degree, and then four years later started a PhD program in cancer research. Although Kuk's mother was in remission from her cancer at the time, Kuk's goal was the same as it had been as a 10-year-old watching her suffer through chemotherapy: to design a better cancer treatment, and change the landscape of cancer research forever.

Since then, Kuk's mission has changed slightly.

"My mom's cancer relapsed in 2008, and she ended up passing away about five years after that," Kuk says. "After my mom died, I started having this sense of urgency. Cancer research is such that you work for twenty years, and at the end of it you might have a fancy medication that could help people, but I wanted to help people now." With their mother still at the forefront of their mind, Kuk decided to quit their PhD program and enter medical school.

Now, Kuk plans to pursue a career in emergency medicine – not only because they are drawn to the excitement of the emergency room, but because the ER is a place where the most marginalized people tend to seek care.

"I have a special interest in the LGBTQ+ population, as I identify as queer and nonbinary," says Kuk. "A lot of people in this community and other marginalized communities access care through the ER and also tend to avoid medical care since there is a history of mistreatment and judgement from healthcare workers. How you carry yourself as a doctor, your compassion, that can make a huge difference in someone's care."

In addition to making a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ patients, Kuk wants to make a difference in the lives of patients with cancer as well, like their mother had.

"We've diagnosed patients in the Emergency Department with cancer before," Kuk says. "I can't make cancer good news but how you deliver bad news and the compassion you show could make a world of difference to that patient and their family."

During their training, Kuk advocates for patients by delivering compassionate and inclusive care, whether they happen to have cancer or not. In addition to emphasizing their patient's pronouns and chosen names, they ask for inclusive social and sexual histories as well as using gender neutral language. In doing this, they hope to make medicine as a whole more accessible for people who have been historically pushed aside.

"I'm just one person, and I can't force everyone to respect you, if you're marginalized," Kuk says. "But I do want to push for a culture where people appreciate others who are different from them."