A large, aquatic relative of the elephant that grazes underwater vegetation around the coasts of Florida, the Caribbean and South America.
Two subspecies have been proposed: T.m. manatus for the North and South American coastal population and T.m. latirostris for the Caribbean population but comparative studies are not yet complete to determine whether or not this is justified.
28 years in captivity, probably longer in the wild.
3.7-4.6m long including the tail. Weight: 1,600kg.
Manatees a have large, rounded bodies ending in a paddle-shaped tail fluke and their front limbs are modified into flippers. Their heads are adapted for browsing sea grass, with a broad, whiskery muzzle. Their skin is thick and grey, with a generous layer of fat underneath. Their eyes are very small and they rely on touch and hearing.
Florida, the Caribbean and the northern Atlantic coast of South America.
Warm coastal waters with sea grass.
They feed on aquatic plants.
Manatees are slow-moving grazers, which are very curious about their environment. They are essentially solitary although tolerant of each other, and may form groups of 12 or more.
Females mate when they are in peak condition, and 6-8 males may follow a receptive female. She may mate with several of these in a short period of time. Gestation is 12 months, after which a single calf is born. The calf stays close to its mother and is weaned only after 12-18 months although it may start eating vegetation after only a couple of weeks. During this close bond the calf learns migration routes and feeding areas.
Manatees are slow breeders, curious, slow-moving and have delicious-tasting flesh. This has led to unregulated hunting in the past. Despite protection they are still at risk in Florida where boating speed regulations are not enforced strictly enough to prevent fatal collisions. Hunting in South America also continues despite their protection. Pollution may also cause them problems as it encourages algal blooms that have cause mass deaths of manatees in Florida in the recent past.
Despite having no vocal cords, manatees still make a variety of high-pitched calls.