American Oceans

Manatee Facts

Manatees are fascinating aquatic mammals that are found in coastal areas and rivers. They are often referred to as gentle giants due to their large size and docile nature.

Manatee being touched by a human

These creatures have been around for millions of years and are believed to have inspired mermaid legends.

There are three species of manatees: the West Indian, West African, and Amazonian. Unfortunately, all three species are considered threatened or endangered due to habitat loss, boat collisions, and other human-related factors.

In fact, manatees were one of the first animals to be protected under the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

However, conservation efforts have helped to increase their populations in recent years, and Manatee Awareness Month is celebrated every November to raise awareness about their conservation status and the importance of protecting these gentle giants.

Manatee Overview

Manatees are aquatic mammals that are also known as gentle giants. They belong to the order Sirenia, along with dugongs, and are sometimes referred to as sea cows due to their herbivorous diet and slow-moving nature.

an enormous manatee swimming underwater

Manatees are considered an endangered species and are protected under the Endangered Species Act.

Physical Characteristics

Manatees are large, slow-moving mammals that can grow up to 13 feet long and weigh over 1,000 pounds.

They have a round, cylindrical body with a paddle-like tail and two flippers that they use for steering and maneuvering.

Manatees have a wrinkled, grayish-brown skin that is covered in algae and barnacles.

They also have small eyes and nostrils located on the top of their head, which they use for breathing while swimming close to the surface of the water.


There are three species of manatees: the West Indian manatee, the Amazonian manatee, and the West African manatee.

The West Indian manatee is further divided into two subspecies: the Florida manatee and the Antillean manatee.

The West Indian manatee is found along the coasts of North and South America, while the Amazonian manatee is found in the Amazon River Basin.

The West African manatee is found along the coast of West Africa. All three species of manatees are considered threatened or endangered due to habitat loss, pollution, and human activity.

In conclusion, manatees are gentle giants that play an important role in their ecosystems. They are fascinating creatures that are unfortunately facing many challenges due to human activity.

It is important to protect and conserve these amazing animals for future generations to enjoy.

Habitat and Distribution

Manatees are aquatic mammals that can be found in a variety of waterways, including rivers, estuaries, and coastal areas.

young manatee close up

They are primarily found in warm, shallow waters, and are known to inhabit both freshwater and saltwater ecosystems.


Manatees can be found in various waterways throughout the Americas, from the Amazon River in South America to the coastal waters of the southeastern United States.

In particular, the West Indian manatee is found in the warm waters of the Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico, and the southeastern United States.


Florida is home to the largest population of manatees in the world, with an estimated 6,300 individuals.

The state’s warm, shallow waters provide ideal habitat for these gentle giants, and the state has implemented measures to protect manatees from boat strikes and other threats.

West Indian Manatees

The West Indian manatee is the most common species of manatee, and is found throughout the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico.

They are known to inhabit both freshwater and saltwater ecosystems, and can be found in a variety of habitats, including rivers, estuaries, and coastal areas.

Overall, manatees are an important part of aquatic ecosystems, and play a vital role in maintaining the health and balance of these fragile environments.

Interesting Facts About Manatees

When Christopher Columbus first encountered manatees in the Caribbean, he thought they were mermaids.

a manatee eating lettuce underwater

In his journal, he wrote that “they are not so beautiful as they are said to be, for their faces had some masculine traits.”

Despite this initial disappointment, manatees have since become beloved creatures, known for their gentle nature and unique appearance.

Barnacles and Manatees

Because manatees are such slow-moving animals, algae and barnacles often grow on their backs.

While this may seem like a nuisance, it actually provides a valuable service to the manatee.

The barnacles and algae provide camouflage, making it harder for predators to spot the manatee in the water.

Neck Vertebrae of Manatees

One of the most unique features of manatees is their neck vertebrae. Unlike most mammals, manatees have very flexible necks that allow them to move their heads in all directions.

In fact, they can rotate their heads almost 180 degrees! This flexibility is due to the fact that their neck vertebrae are not fused together like they are in other mammals.

Here are some other interesting facts about manatees:

  • Manatees are herbivores and can eat up to 10% of their body weight in plants each day.
  • Manatees can hold their breath for up to 20 minutes when they are resting.
  • Manatees are the largest herbivores in the ocean, measuring up to 15 feet in length and weighing up to 1,775 kg.
  • Manatees are generally solitary animals, although mothers will nurse their young.
  • Manatees are found in shallow coastal areas and rivers where they feed on sea grass, mangrove leaves, and algae.

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