Can manatees drink salt water?

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Manatees are a unique species of marine mammals found in the Caribbean and Florida. The West Indian Manatee is found in the coastal areas and in the spring-fed rivers and canals of Florida. They are a native of Florida and have existed there for millions of years. The manatee is a marine animal that can thrive both in fresh water and salt water, so they do not mind moving from fresh water into salt water and back again.

So can manatees drink salt water?

Generally speaking, manatees do not drink salt water. They predominantly rely on fresh water for their survival. However, since manatees inhabit both fresh water and marine environments, they cannot always find fresh water and must quickly adapt to their immediate surroundings. When manatees are in the ocean waters or brackish coastal areas and cannot find fresh water to drink, they drink salt water. Likewise, when manatees find themselves in sea water, they inadvertently swallow some salt water as they feed on the vegetation in these areas.

Urinary system adapted to salt water environments

Little is known about how the West Indian Manatee deals with increased intake of salt water. However, studies in osmoregulation and water balance in manatees have shown that their kidneys are specially developed to help them get rid of excess salt whenever they find themselves in marine habitats for a long period of time. In fact, urine data from the study of manatees living in marine environments show that their kidneys adapted to active drinking of salt water. This is why manatees are often seen drinking sea water without any serious adverse effects. Nevertheless, it is not known how long a manatee can survive without fresh water.

It is unknown whether fresh water is necessary for the survival of Florida manatees. What is known is that the manatees like fresh water very much. So while the manatees can go without fresh water for a long period of time, they tend to move back to fresh water within a period of one to two weeks in order to drink. The water intake occurs when manatees eat aquatic plants or when they are actively drinking to quench thirst. Since manatees can take care of their fresh water needs, people do not need to provide them with water from hoses. In fact, this is illegal. For more information on manatee tours and how to swim with manatees, visit “Captain Mike’s Swimming with the Manatees” site.


Swimming with the Manatees boasts the best water adventure in Crystal River, Florida with lots of things to do for you and your family. For more information, contact us online, or call us at (352) 571-1888.

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