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The Different Types of Manatees

Manatees are enormous, primarily herbivorous, entirely aquatic marine mammals. They are occasionally referred to as sea cows. There is a wide range of body sizes among manatees.

The average length is 10 feet, and their weight can range from 1,000 pounds to over 3,000 pounds! And yet, despite their bulk, manatees are surprisingly graceful creatures.

Manatees are animals that live in water and have been studied for a long time, but we still know little about them. People have thought they were mermaids and sirens for hundreds of years! These secretive creatures have an ethereal mystery that has earned them a mythological reputation.

These marine herbivores consume over sixty distinct types of freshwater and saltwater plants. Age, occasional predation, and sickness are natural causes of the manatee’s death.

Sadly, manatees mostly die from human-related factors, including habitat loss, temperature rises in the oceans and rivers, boat strikes, getting caught in nets, flood gates, and locks, and ingesting trash objects left by humans.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has classified all Sirenian species as endangered or vulnerable. Manatees tend to have a slow reproductive rate. Once manatees reach about five years of age, they reach sexual maturity. The average birth interval is two to five years, and multiple births, such as twins, are uncommon. 

How Many Different Types of Manatees Are There?

The West Indian Manatee lives in Florida and along the Gulf Coast of North America. There is also the Amazonian manatee, which lives in the Amazon River Basin. Also, there is the West African manatee, which lives in the tropical and subtropical waters along the coast of Africa.

Each of these different breeds of manatees is an enormous water mammal that nearly entirely subsists on plant matter. All these species are in danger of extinction.

See Related: Florida Manatee: Why Is It Endangered?

Types Of Manatees

1. Amazonian Manatee (Trichechus inunguis)

amazonian manatee

The Amazon River Basin and its tributaries are home to a manatee subspecies that is entirely distinct. It is the smallest among the species of manatees in terms of size, measuring between 8 and 10 feet in length and weighing approximately 1,100 pounds.

The Amazonian Manatee is the only manatee family species confined to freshwater during its entire life and is never found in saltwater environments. It also has velvety skin, and none of its front limbs have nails, making it different from other manatees.

2. West African Manatee (Trichechus senegalensis)

West African Manatee (Trichechus senegalensis)

The West African manatee is usually found in Western Africa’s tropical and subtropical zones, which can be found in coastal locations, saltwater, and freshwater environments. The West African manatee is larger than the Amazonian manatee, measuring between 10 and 13 feet in length and weighing 1,100 pounds.

Its size and appearance are comparable to those of the West Indian Manatee, except for its shorter and rounded nose. The manatee is a herbivore for the most part, but it will occasionally consume things like shellfish and other fish.

See Related: Save the Manatee Club

3. West Indian Manatee (Trichechus manatus)

West Indian Manatee (Trichechus manatus)

The West Indian Manatee is the biggest and most famous species of the genus Sirenia. It has a grayish-brown skin color, a rounded tail, and a set of nails on each forelimb. It can range up to 13 feet and weigh a maximum of 3,300 pounds.

There are two more West Indian manatees, the Florida Manatee and the Antillean Manatee. The West Indian Manatee lives mostly in the marshy coastal areas of the southeastern United States, the Caribbean, Central and South America, and the Gulf of Mexico.

4. Florida Manatee (Trichechus manatus latirostris)

Florida Manatee

Manatees from Florida are often seen in the Gulf of Mexico and the waters around the southeastern United States.

During the colder months of the year, when manatees are looking for warmer water to swim in, they can congregate in significant numbers in the springs of Crystal River in Florida.

People come from around the world to witness these marine giants in this freshwater environment.

The Florida manatee’s size and shape are rather noticeable compared to the Antillean manatee’s. They have lengthy, spherical bodies that taper to a paddle-like tail. Their tails are paddle-shaped and flat. They also have wrinkled skin on their heads and faces, as well as whiskers on their snouts.

See Related: West African Manatee: Is This Animal Endangered?

5. Antillean Manatee (Trichechus manatus)

Antillean Manatee

The West Indian Caribbean manatee (or Antillean manatee) is a subspecies of the West Indian Manatee that can be found in the Caribbean Sea and along the coast of Central America. They share a very close genetic relationship with the manatees that live along the coast of Florida. However, they are much smaller in size than their Floridian cousins.

In most cases, they only reach a length of 9 to 10 feet and a weight of 1,000 pounds, but they can reach a maximum length of 12 feet and a maximum weight of 3,000 pounds. They eat mostly , spend several hours a day grazing, and are generally slow-moving animals.

In the past, indigenous people in the Antillean region would hunt manatees and then sell them to European explorers for consumption. Today, they face many threats, such as losing their habitat, being hit by boats, being caught in fishing gear, and being killed for their meat.

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Fun Facts About Manatees

Physical Features of Manatee Species

Physical Features of Manatee Species

All manatees have split lips and long whiskers. Apart from these mighty mustaches, they have hairless skin, flexible, paddle-like pectoral flippers, and a rounded, horizontal tail like other aquatic mammals.

Manatee Habitats

Manatees are found in the subtropical and tropical oceans of the Americas (North, South, and Africa) and the waters of Africa.

Manatees found in the West Indian and African regions call rivers, bays, estuaries, and other coastal habitats home. They can freely travel between settings involving freshwater and saltwater.

The Amazonian manatee can only be found in the freshwater of the Amazon basin and nowhere else.

Manatees’ Favorite Food

Manatees' Favorite Food

Manatees typically eat only vegetation. For example, around sixty different kinds of grass and plants make up the diet of the Florida manatee. Plants are chewed by the manatee’s teeth, called molars.

According to specific studies, manatees need to drink clean water routinely. Manatees have been seen getting water from hoses, ditches, and even sewage outfalls at the mouths of rivers in the West Indies.

Manatee Reproduction

Manatees give birth to offspring known as calves. Like other large mammals, their reproduction rate is quite low. Environmental conditions such as temperature changes, food scarcity, and stress may also lower reproductive rates.

Twins are extremely rare, and the gestation duration is approximately 12 months. Females take great care of their calves after giving birth and do not have contact with other adult manatees during this time.

Manatee Vulnerability

Manatee Vulnerability

Manatees have battled for a long time to coexist with humans, and today, all manatee species are categorized as at risk of extinction. So what has brought about the potential extinction of manatees? Two significant threats are habitat loss and collisions with boats and ships.

Natural nesting places are destroyed as new developments are built around coastal and river waterways. Runoff from sewage, manure, and fertilizers enters the water and generates algal blooms. Some of these algae are toxic, and eating them can kill manatees.

Manatees spend most of their time in shallow water because they feed on seagrass, which requires sunlight and shallow water to flourish. This means that they often don’t have enough room to dive away from boats coming toward them, which can lead to fatal collisions.

Manatees Activities

Manatees are herbivores that do not have their own territory and spend most of their lives feeding (six to eight hours per day) and relaxing (2 to 12 hours per day). The remainder of their day is spent meandering around, exploring various objects, and socializing with other manatees.

Manatee Rescue and Rehabilitation program

Marine zoological parks such as SeaWorld contribute to preserving manatees in the wild. SeaWorld is allowed to give sick, hurt, or orphaned manatees medical care and help them get back on their feet.

The main goal of the Manatee Rescue and Rehabilitation program is to put manatees back into their natural environments after they have been checked out and found to be healthy.

Manatees Sounds

Manatees make sounds that they use to talk to each other underwater. You might call these sounds chirps, whistles, or squeaks. Voice sounds can show fear, anger, or sexual interest. They also maintain contact, especially when manatees are feeding or moving through murky water. The most frequent vocalizations are between mothers and calves.

Manatees Eyes

Manatees eyes

Manatees have eyes that are very developed for their size. They can locate objects in the water even when separated by tens of meters of murky water. Because manatee retinas contain both rod and cone cells, this mammal can see in both low and bright light conditions.

Recent studies have shown that manatees can differentiate between blue and green colors. Nevertheless, the full extent of their color vision is still a mystery, and further research is required to uncover it.

See Related: Olive Ridley Sea Turtle

Other Things You Should Know About Manatees

Aquatic Life

Aquatic Life

Despite their large size, manatees are graceful swimmers. They can be found in rivers and coastal waters in both freshwater and saltwater environments.

Thanks to their potent tails, adult manatees can swim at rates of up to 15 miles per hour for short bursts, while their typical gliding speed is about 5 miles per hour.

The animal’s nose and nostrils are often the only parts of its body visible above the surface of the water when swimming in shallow water.

When resting, a manatee can remain below the water’s surface for up to 15 minutes, but it must surface every three to four minutes when swimming.

Aspects of Parenting and Diet

Aspects of Parenting and Diet

Manatees give birth underwater. The parents must help bring their calves to the surface to take their first breath, but after an hour, the calves are typically able to swim on their own and know how to breathe without their parents’ assistance.

While manatees are primarily herbivorous, their diets can vary depending on the species. While manatees in the West Indian and Amazonian regions only consume plants, manatees in the African region will also consume mollusks and small fish. Consequently, the latter is regarded as an omnivorous animal.

Manatees’ diets consist primarily of various algae and aquatic plants, including seagrass. They place their lips at the end of their noses to consume food. These lips are utilized for grabbing branches and removing algae from the environment.

Because of the enormous size of their bodies, they have a high caloric intake requirement to stay alive. As a direct consequence of this, they sleep a lot. When they’re awake, most of their time is spent grazing seabeds or riverbeds, giving credence to the nickname “sea cows.”

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Reproduction in Male and Female Manatees

Reproduction in Male and Female Manatees

Manatees do not attain sexual maturity until they are seven for males and nine for females. Even though manatees can have babies at any time of the year, most African manatees have their babies in late spring or early summer.

When a female is in heat, a group of males will gather around her to mate with her. This is made up of one female and many males who chase her for days to mate with her. This is how they try to mate with her. The level of sexual maturity of the female is directly related to the pregnancy’s success.

Most births result in one calf. Even though they can swim from birth, they still need their mother to live. She is the only one whose job it is to ensure they are healthy. The average time a mother spends with her child is about two years. Estimates say a woman gives birth on average every two to five years. The gestational period lasts for around a year.

Manatees in Groups

Manatees are typically observed alone, in pairs, or in small groups of six or fewer individuals.

See Related: Most Comfortable Animals in the World

Ecology and Environmental Protection

environmental protection

In every country they live in, the laws at the national and local levels provide some level of protection for all species of sirenians.

For example, there are now both federal and state rules to safeguard the manatee population in Florida. According to federal law, it is illegal to hunt, capture, kill, or harass these creatures. Laws such as the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 and the Endangered Species Act of 1973 are examples of these regulations. If you violate any of these federal laws, you could face up to one year in prison, a fine of up to $20,000, and other penalties.

The Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act of 1978 is a piece of state legislation passed in 1978 and gives Florida the authority to create manatee sanctuaries.

The African Convention on Nature and Natural Resources, signed by 38 nations across Africa, provides a level of protection known as Class A for West African manatees. Since 1973, hunting manatees in the Amazonian region has been illegal.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is a worldwide treaty established in 1973 to control the international trade of wildlife products. Among the many things about it, the pact protects every species of sirenian.

Challenging Situation

Manatees are enormous, lumbering creatures that call rivers and other bodies of water along the coast their home. Because of these things, they are easy to hunt by people who want to get their skins, oils, and bones.

Sadly, most manatees killed by humans are done so purely by accident.

The number of manatees worldwide has significantly decreased during the past century, primarily due to increased hunting. Manatees are endangered nowadays. Even though the law safeguards them, they are susceptible to harm. On the seas, where there are more and more boats, motorboats often hurt small mammals and get caught in fishing nets.

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