Trichechus Manatus, the West Indian Manatee, more commonly known as just a Manatee, is a herbivorous marine mammal belonging to the order Sirenia. Manatees are also known as sea cows and are closely related to dugongs. They can be found in the interior waterways or tropical and subtropical Atlantic coastlines.
The Amazonian Manatee, the West Indian Manatee, and the West African Manatee are the three acknowledged extant species of manatee.
Manatees swim gracefully in streams and shoreline waterways despite their enormous stature. They often glide across the water by using their powerful tails to propel themselves.
All three Manatee species have strong tapering bodies that finish in a flattened, rounded tail and are dull gray, blackish, or brown in color. Manatees range in weight from 880 to 1,210 lbs and can reach lengths of up to 15 ft and approximately 4,000 lbs. Females tend to be bigger and heavier than male Manatees.
Manatees have a large and robust body that is supported by a series of vertebrae, allowing them to maneuver through the water gracefully. Their rounded snout, also called a rostrum, extends from their face and is used for grazing on aquatic plants. It is also essential when it comes to communication and social engagement.
One of their distinctive features is their paddle-shaped tail, which they use to propel themselves through the water with gentle and slow movements. Their front flippers are primarily used for steering, navigating, and propelling themselves through the water. Additionally, manatees use their flippers to interact with their environment, such as directing vegetation while eating, and for social behaviors like communicating with other manatees.
These physical characteristics make manatees instantly recognizable and perfectly adapted to their aquatic environment.
Manatees are mostly solitary animals, with the exception of mothers and their young or males pursuing a willing mate.
Manatees are herbivores that consume different types of saltwater and freshwater plants, including shoal grass, widgeon grass, sea clover, Manatee grass, turtle grass, and marine algae. Examples of some of the plants they consume include floating hyacinth, pickerelweed, alligator weed, water lettuce, and mangrove leaves.
Manatees possess molars designed for grinding vegetation; however, interestingly, despite being mammals, manatees lack front teeth, and their molars continuously grow and wear down throughout their lives.
An adult Manatee will often consume up to 15% of their body weight each day using their split upper lip. To consume this much, the Manatee must pasture for 6-8 hours daily. Manatees use intestine fermentation to aid in digestion in order to handle the high quantities of fiber in their diet. Small quantities of fish caught in nets have been found to be consumed by Manatees.
Manatees generally prefer warm water habitats. One subspecies of the West Indian Manatee can be spotted periodically in the waterways of neighboring states of Florida. Florida manatees (Trichechus manatus latirostris) are the largest population of manatees in the world and have some physical and behavioral adaptations specific to their habitat. They have a larger average size compared to other subspecies, with adults reaching lengths of up to 13 feet and weights of around 1,000 to 1,300 pounds.
The other subspecies are found in rivers, ports, wetlands, and shoreline waters in eastern Mexico, along the coast of Central America, and in northern South America. The Antillean Manatee gets its name because it also lives near the Caribbean islands of the Greater Antilles. They are known for seeking out areas with warm water sources such as natural springs, power plant outflows, and warm water discharges from industrial facilities. Their preference for warm waters helps them regulate their body temperature and thrive in their natural habitat.
The Amazon River and its surrounding drainage regions, including forests that occasionally flood, are home to the Amazonian Manatee. Only found in freshwater, this species may be found deep inside countries like Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, and Colombia. From Senegal to Angola, coastal regions and slow-moving rivers are home to the West African Manatee. However, some of these rivers extend well inland.
Manatees typically reach sexual maturity between the ages of 5 and 9 years old. Once they reach sexual maturity, male manatees start producing sperm, and female manatees become capable of reproducing and giving birth to calves. It’s important to note that manatees have a relatively long reproductive lifespan, with females being able to reproduce into their late 30s or even 40s.
Manatees normally give birth to one calf every two years during the breeding season. Although females may have more than one estrous cycle each year, gestation lasts around 12 months, and nursing the calf takes another 12 to 18 months.
A Manatee is born in the water. Mothers must assist their calves to the surface so they can breathe for the first time, but it usually takes them an hour before they can swim independently. Manatee calves consume their moms’ milk.
The biggest threat to manatees over the last few decades is human activities, particularly watercraft collisions. Manatees are slow-moving and often difficult to spot, making them vulnerable to collisions with boats and personal watercraft. This is a major cause of injury and mortality for manatees.
Between the 1930s and 1950, Amazonian manatees were heavily hunted for their fat and leather due to these characteristics; however, that is now illegal in the majority of countries due to their endangered status.
Other threats include habitat loss and degradation, pollution, entanglement in fishing gear, and cold stress during winter months. Conservation efforts and strict regulations are in place to protect manatees and mitigate these threats.
Conservation efforts for manatees involve multiple stakeholders, including government agencies, non-profit organizations, researchers, and local communities. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and Wildlife Conservation Commission play a significant role in manatee conservation in the United States. Here are some key conservation initiatives and the involvement of the USFWS:
- Habitat Protection: The USFWS works to establish and manage protected areas, such as wildlife refuges and sanctuaries, to safeguard manatee habitats. These areas provide essential feeding grounds, warm water refuges, and breeding sites.
- Manatee Rescue and Rehabilitation: The USFWS supports and collaborates with organizations that rescue and rehabilitate injured, sick, or orphaned manatees. These efforts aim to provide medical care, nursing, and eventual release back into the wild.
- Conservation Research: The USFWS funds and conducts research on manatee populations, habitat requirements, migration patterns, and other key aspects to better understand their biology and inform conservation strategies.
- Regulation and Enforcement: The USFWS enforces laws and regulations related to manatee protection, including speed limits in manatee zones, boating guidelines, and restrictions on human activities that may harm or disturb manatees. Following the Endangered Species Act of 1973, manatees are illegal to harass, hunt, kill, or capture.
- Public Education and Outreach: The USFWS raises public awareness about manatees, their conservation status, and the importance of responsible boating practices. They also work with local communities to promote coexistence and engage in outreach programs for schools, communities, and recreational users.
Through these efforts and collaborations with other organizations and agencies, the USFWS plays a vital role in the conservation and management of manatees to ensure their long-term survival.
Facts About The Manatee
- In brief spurts, Manatees may swim up to 20 miles per hour.
- Manatees can stay submerged for 20 minutes when resting.
- In particular, between mothers and their calves, Manatees communicate using a variety of noises.
- Manatees are capable of comprehending tasks requiring judgment.
- Manatees can live up to 60-70 years.
- Manatees do not have any natural predators in their habitat. They are apex herbivores, meaning they are at the top of the food chain in their ecosystem.
How fast can Manatees swim?
Manatees typically swim at a leisurely pace of 3 to 5 miles per hour (4.8 to 8 kilometers per hour). However, they can reach slightly higher speeds of up to 15 miles per hour (24 kilometers per hour) in short bursts, especially when they are startled or trying to evade a threat.
Can a Manatee hurt you?
Manatees are quiet, tranquil sea creatures that don’t endanger swimmers. They are observant creatures that value human contact and are content to engage with and be near people. Because of this, Manatees frequently approach divers or swimmers for a belly rub or other close contact.
Do Manatees scream?
The most typical Manatee calls are squeaks, loud squeaks, and yelps. Manatees can make each of these calls when grazing, frolicking, or resting; they frequently alter each sound depending on the circumstance or action.
Do sharks bother Manatees?
Researchers believe sharks, alligators, or crocodiles may occasionally attack West Indian Manatees, even though predation has not been confirmed. Manatees in West Africa are occasionally prey for crocodiles and sharks. Amazonian Manatees are targets for jaguars, caimans, and sharks.
Are Manatees intelligent?
Manatees are exceptionally intelligent animals despite having one of the tiniest brains known to exist. Manatees are as skilled at experimental tasks as dolphins, one of the brightest creatures in the world, despite having the lowest brain-to-body ratio of any marine mammal.
How long can Manatees be out of water?
Manatees rarely exit the water. However, they usually surface every five minutes to breathe. The manatee may hold its breath for up to 20 minutes while it is at rest, depending on its degree of activity. A Manatee may emerge up to once every 30 seconds when it is extremely active.