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Manatees are large, fully aquatic, mostly herbivorous marine mammals sometimes known as sea cows.
Manatees are large, fully aquatic, mostly herbivorous marine mammals sometimes known as sea cows.

Manatees are large, fully aquatic, mostly herbivorous marine mammals sometimes known as sea cows due to their herbivorous diet and gentle demeanour. They are slow-moving animals typically found in coastal waters, rivers, and estuaries.[1]

They belong to the family Trichechidae and the genus Trichechus.

There are three accepted living species of manatees:[2]

  • West Indian manatee
  • Amazonian manatee
  • West African manatee

In a nutshell

  1. Habitat: Manatees inhabit shallow, calm waters such as rivers, estuaries, bays, canals, and coastal areas.[3] They are primarily found in regions with warm water temperatures, including Florida, the Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico, and parts of West Africa.[4]
  2. Physical Characteristics: Adult manatees typically measure approximately 3m (9-10 ft) in length from snout to tail and can weigh around 454 kg (1,000 lb).[4] They have large, paddle-like flippers and a rounded body, which tapers into a flat, horizontal tail.[1]
  3. Diet: Manatees are herbivores with voracious appetites, spending up to 8 hours a day grazing on aquatic vegetation.[5] They consume over 60 different freshwater and saltwater plants, including seagrasses and algae.[5]
  4. Adaptations: Manatees have several adaptations that help them thrive in their aquatic environment. They can travel from freshwater to saltwater habitats without any problems.[3] Additionally, their large, flexible lips and prehensile upper lip are used for grasping and manipulating food.[1]
  5. Conservation Status: Manatees face various threats, including habitat loss, pollution, and collisions with boats.[4] As a result, they are classified as vulnerable or endangered species, depending on the region.[4]
  6. Behaviour: Manatees are generally solitary animals, although they may form temporary aggregations in areas with abundant food or warm water.[1] They spend approximately 50% of the day sleeping submerged, surfacing for air regularly at intervals of less than 20 minutes.[1]

Human Impact on the Manatee

The human impact on manatees encompasses various threats ranging from habitat degradation to direct physical harm.

  1. Habitat Loss and Starvation: Human activities such as coastal development, pollution, and boat traffic significantly contribute to the loss and degradation of manatee habitats. According to research from NOAA, there are two major threats to manatees: habitat loss and boat strikes. Coastal development leads to the destruction of seagrass beds, which are crucial for the manatee's diet and shelter, thereby reducing available habitat and food sources.[6]
  2. Boat Strikes: Manatees are highly susceptible to collisions with watercraft, resulting in injuries and fatalities. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission highlights the impact of boat strikes, stating that scars and mutilations caused by these incidents make manatees more vulnerable to future entanglements, further exacerbating their plight.[7]
  3. Climate Change: Human-induced climate change poses a significant threat to manatees. Rising sea levels, altered water temperatures, and extreme weather events can disrupt their habitats and food sources.[8]
  4. Pollution: Pollution from various sources, including agricultural runoff, industrial discharge, and littering, contaminates waterways and negatively impacts manatees. This pollution can lead to habitat degradation, ingestion of harmful substances, and compromised immune systems, further endangering their survival.
  5. Entanglement: Manatees may become entangled in marine debris such as fishing lines, ropes, and nets, leading to injuries, impaired mobility, and even death. Discover Crystal River identifies entanglement as one of the top two dangers to manatees, highlighting the need for efforts to reduce marine debris and mitigate entanglement risks.[9]
  6. Red Tide: Red tide is a naturally occurring phenomenon caused by a proliferation of certain species of algae, predominantly Karenia brevis, in coastal waters. While these algal blooms are a regular feature of marine ecosystems, they can have severe consequences for aquatic life, including manatees.[10] Manatees, being herbivorous mammals that inhabit coastal waters, are particularly vulnerable to the effects of red tide. When they ingest contaminated water or consume seagrass tainted with brevetoxins, they can suffer from a range of health issues. These may include respiratory distress, neurological symptoms, and even mortality in severe cases.[10]
  7. Harassment of Manatees: Despite being protected by laws and regulations, manatees continue to endure various forms of disturbance, which can have detrimental effects on their well-being and survival.[11] There are two types of harassment:
    1. Drastic harassment involves singular, significant incidents that can lead to harm or injury. Examples include riding a manatee or forcibly separating a mother and calf.[11]
    2. Cumulative harassment occurs gradually over time due to repeated disturbances. For instance, large or frequent tour groups disrupting resting manatees can compel them to relocate frequently to avoid human contact. This behaviour consumes excessive energy and may cause the manatees to abandon their habitat entirely.[11]

Population Status

  1. The Florida manatee population is estimated to be approximately 3,800 individuals.[12]
  2. In 1991, there were estimated to be a little over 1,200 manatees in Florida. By 2024, this number has increased to over 6,300 individuals.[13]
  3. The population of Florida manatees has grown to a minimum of 8,350 animals as of the latest count, leading to their reclassification from endangered to threatened.[14]
  4. The best estimate for the Amazon and West African manatee populations are 8,000–30,000 adults and 10,000 adults, respectively.[15]
  5. A new manatee habitat was discovered by Klaus Thymann within the cenotes of Sian Ka'an Biosphere with an estimated population of 200-250 manatees.[16]

Legal Protection of the Manatee

United States

Manatees are protected under federal law by the Endangered Species Act of 1973 and the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972.[11] In Florida the manatee is also protected by the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act of 1978.[11]

Awareness days

Manatee Appreciation Day is an annual observance dedicated to raising awareness about manatees celebrated on the last Wednesday of March, this day serves as a reminder of the importance of protecting the manatee and their habitats.

See also

External links


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Manatees National Geographic
  2. Manatee | Diet, Habitat, & Facts Britannica
  3. 3.0 3.1 Kids Manatee Facts Dolphin Research Center
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Florida Manatee Facts and Information Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
  5. 5.0 5.1 14 Fun Facts About Manatees Smithsonian Magazine
  6. Endangered Ocean: Manatees NOAA
  7. Human-related Impacts to Manatees Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
  8. Amid Human-Induced Climate Change, the Florida Manatee Faces an Uncertain Future
  9. Top Two Dangers to Manatees Discover Crystal River
  10. 10.0 10.1 Red Tide Save the Manatee Club
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 11.4 Harassment Save the Manatee Club
  12. Natural history
  13. Florida Manatee Florida Museum
  14. Florida Manatee Program FWC
  15. Manatee Diet, Habitat, & Facts Britannica
  16. Manatee Wikipedia