Species: West Indian manatee (Trichechus manatus)
Status: Vulnerable (VU)
Interesting Fact: Manatees produce a large volume of gas making them particularly buoyant, so much so their bones are dense in order to compensate.
West Indian manatees are distinctive large, rotund, aquatic mammals. They can be found in freshwater, estuarine, and marine waters off the east coast of the Americas. An obscure species, the manatee was once mistaken for mermaids by sailors.
Manatees can be distinguished from the closely related dugongs by their paddle-shaped tail. They mainly feed on aquatic vegetation, and can consume ten to fifteen percent of their body weight a day. Unique for mammals, the manatee constantly replaces molar teeth, as new teeth grow at the back of the jaw and replace old and worn teeth at the front.
Historically manatees have been extensively hunted for their meat, hide and oil. Today the major threats faced by West Indian manatees are collisions with the hulls and propellers of boats, and habitat loss caused by coastal development. West Indian manatees are protected by law in the US and boat speed zones have been created to prevent watercraft collisions.
Today is International Manatee Day! Find out more about these bizarre creatures at Save the Manatee Club.
Find out more, see pictures and watch videos of the West Indian manatee on ARKive.