West Indian Manatee
Scientific Name:Trichecus manatus
Large, docile, barrel-shaped aquatic mammal. Looks like a large, elongated seal. Has paired, rounded, flexible flippers and a round, paddle-shaped tail. Typically gray, although coloring ranges from black to light brown. Head is small, with a flattened profile. No external ears. Upper jaw extends beyond lower jaw, nostrils are on top of the snout, and there are stiff bristles around the mouth. Can grow up to 13 feet long and 2,205 pounds.
Range and Habitat
Found in warm coastal waters of no less than 68°F; mostly rivers and estuaries but sometimes saltwater when traveling from site to site. Often found in waters with submerged aquatic beds or floating vegetation. Will congregate during winter at natural springs and power plant discharges in search of warmer water. Most common in Florida but also found in Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina. Also found along the northern Atlantic coast of South America, the Caribbean coast of South and Central America, and the Greater Antilles north of Florida.
Nicknamed sea cows because they eat seagrass and other aquatic plants. Individuals require access to freshwater habitat to stay hydrated, although they can go long periods without access.
Males sexually mature between 9 and 10 years but can mate at 2 years; females can reproduce at 4 or 5 years but are most successful after 7 to 9 years. Manatees have a gestation period of about one year. They give birth to calves about 4 feet long and 65 pounds. They typically have one calf at a time, but twins have been reported. Calves can eat plants after 3 weeks and remain with their mothers for 2 years. Manatees can live up to 60 years in the wild.
Listed as threatened under Endangered Species Act; protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Threats to population include collisions with boats and barges, flood control structures, poaching and vandalism, habitat loss, pollution, harassment by boaters and divers, and natural factors such as unusually cold weather and outbreaks of red tide.