American Manatee

The American Manatee may not be one of the most beautiful animals, but they are one of the few mammalian species that eat underwater vegetation. Having suffered greatly from hunting, the manatees are currently one of the most endangered sea creatures.

American Manatees live in tropical and subtropical seas in the waters adjacent to the Gulf of Mexico. They don’t like temperatures lower than +8 Celsium. In winters they often migrate to warmers seas, their favourite water temperature being +20 Celsium. Being mammals, the manatees have to stay rise above the surface to breathe frequently, although the manatee can hold breath for up to 15 minutes.

Manatees have large lips that help them pluck seaweeds
Manatees have large lips that help them pluck seaweeds

These sea creatures often reach a size of 4 m and weigh more than 350 kg. The massive body holds a resemblance to a whale’s bone structure. The skin is thick and stiff, coloured in a tone of gray. Manatees have large lips that are used to pluck seaweeds which are then chewed with the blunt teeth. Manatees are quite slow swimmers and their tail and fin-like front legs paddle at a slow rate.

As mentioned above, American Manatees feed on seaweeds that they find the bottom of the seas. Sand that enters the mouth along with food wear out the manatee’s teeth quite fast, therefore new teeth grow throughout the manatee’s life. The massive body of this sea mammal requires incredible amounts of food, being 15% (about 45 kg) of the body mass per day on average which translates into thousands of sea plants.

Manatees don’t mate frequently. In fact, females give birth only once in two years. In the mating period the males show incredible competetiveness when trying to find a partner, although there is usually no violent fighting between the males. Gestation period lasts for about a year and the calf is dependent on the mother for quite a long time. The female keeps feeding the calf with milk for up to 3 years, although the youngling learns to eat seaweeds already a few months after birth. Manatees reach sexual maturity at 4-8 years and live for up to 60 years.

A female manatee and her almost mature offspring
A female manatee and her almost mature offspring

Due to living in rather shallow waters, these large sea mammals have no natural predators. Humans, however, have caused a great damage on the population of American Manatees, hunting them for meat, fat and skin. The skin was widely used in fabrics and pickled manatee meat was considered a delicacy. Their population has reduced greatly during the years they were commercially hunted, but, fortunately, plans have been devised to conserve these large sea creatures, for instance the manatees are planned to be introduced to rivers in Florida, that are rich in vegetation.


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