The Facts

  • Genus: Trichechus
  • Conservation Status: Vulnerable
  • Location: In warm tropical and subtropical waters around the West Indies, West Africa, the Amazon and the South Pacific


The Scoop

Big, Gentle and Slow Moving

Manatees inhabit warm, shallow marshlands under water. They do not have gills and therefore cannot breathe underwater so the manatee has to resurface regularly in order to take in air. The manatee's body is streamlined - full around the middle and narrowing to a paddle-shaped tail. The true color of a manatee is gray, although it may appear brownish gray. Organisms such as algae, which may grow on the skin of the slow-moving individuals, alter the body color and make some manatees look more green or brown.

Manatees are gentle and slow-moving animals. Average mature manatees are 10 feet long- about as long as a small car- and weigh in the neighborhood of 1,200 pounds which is about heavy as a horse. The manatee spends most of its time grazing on plants in warm, shallow waters that are seldom deeper than a couple of meters. It is an herbivore, which is why it is sometimes called a ‘sea cow.’ It feeds on aquatic plants like sea grass and algae. Manatees will spend 6 to 8 hours a day feeding.

It is sometimes said that manatees gave rise to the stories of mermaids. This is because Christopher Columbus noted in his journal, when he was off the coast of Haiti, that he saw three mermaids.  Later Columbus realized they were manatees, which he had probably met before on the coast of West Africa. The people of West Africa believed manatees to be sacred. Manatees have few enemies other than alligators and humans. They face many challenges to survive in the wild. They are slow-moving, frequently hit by boats, and are still hunted some parts of their range.


Did You Know?

  • The two flippers of the manatee are used to steer and position the manatee while swimming, but they are also used as arms to hold onto objects and manipulate food to the mouth. Sometimes the manatee even "walks" on its flippers.
  • The manatee has small eyes, protected by membranes which can be drawn across the eyeballs.
  • Manatees communicate through squeaks and chirps.
  • Manatees are so effective at eating their way through weed-choked canals that they have actually been employed in some countries to clear canals for people.


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