What does the Manatee look like?




West Indian manatees are large, gray aquatic mammals with bodies that taper to a flat, paddle-shaped tail. They have two forelimbs, called flippers, with three to four nails. Their head and face are wrinkled with whiskers on the snout.


Although manatees look fat, they actually have very little body fat for an aquatic mammal. They are a tropical species and have no need for body fat to keep them warm. A large percentage of the manatee’s body is taken up by the gut tract which contains the stomach and intestines etc. 


Researchers believe that the manatee's large size probably evolved as a result of being aquatic and having a herbivorous (plant-eating) diet. The plants manatees eat have a low nutritional value, so they make up for that by eating large quantities of them.


  The reproductive rate for manatees is slow. Female manatees are not sexually mature until about five years of age.  

Males are mature at approximately nine years of age. 


The gestation period is about a year. Mothers nurse their young for one to two years, so a calf may remain dependent on its mother during that time.

On average, one calf is born every two to five years, and twins are rare.


Manatees are gentle and slow moving. Most of their time is spent eating, resting, and in travel.

Manatees are completely herbivorous. They eat aquatic plants and can consume 10-15% of their body weight daily in vegetation.


They graze for food along water bottoms and on the surface.

They may rest submerged at the bottom or just below the surface, coming up to breathe on the average of every three to five minutes.

Lifespan and Mortality

West Indian manatees have no natural enemies and it is believed that they can live for 60 years or more.

Many manatee mortalities are human realted however, loss of habitat is the most serios threat facing manatees today.


              Most human related manatee mortalities occur from collision with watercraft.

Other causes of human related manatee mortalities include being crushed and/or drowned in canal locks and flood control structures, ingestion of fish hooks, litter and entanglement in crab trap lines.

Manatees and their relatives

The manatee's closest land relatives are the elephant and the hyrax, a small, gopher-sized mammal.

The West Indian manatee is related to the West African manatee, the Amazonian manatee, the dugong, and to the Steller's sea cow, which was hunted to extinction in 1768.