The 3 Species of Manatees

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Manatees are large and gentle creatures with an unmistakable appearance. They are gray and oval-shaped sea giants, with stout bodies, whiskered face, two flippers and a rounded paddle-like tail. They live their entire lives in water, relying almost exclusively on vegetation for their food. Due to a lack of body fat for insulation against cold, they like to stay in water that is at least 60 degrees Fahrenheit or warmer in order to survive. Manatees are solitary animals that prefer to live alone except during mating season or nursing young ones. They move slowly, but can go at quick bursts of speed when necessary.

How many species of manatees exist?

There are three species of manatees. The West Indian Manatee that is commonly found in Florida and the Gulf Coast of North America; the Amazonian Manatee that is found in the Amazonian River Basin; and the West African Manatee found along the tropical and sub-tropical waters of Africa. All three manatee species are aquatic mammals that are large in size and almost wholly herbivorous. And all three species are highly vulnerable and endangered, constantly facing threats such as loss of habitat, entrapment in turbines and generators, entanglement in fishing nets and collisions with watercrafts.

Amazonian Manatee (Trichechus inunguis)

This unique species of manatees is found in the Amazon River Basin and its tributaries. It is the smallest of the three manatee species in terms of size, being 8-10 feet long and weighing about 1,100 pounds. The Amazonian Manatee is the only member of the manatee family that lives exclusively in freshwater and never moves into saltwater. It also has a smooth skin and stands out as the only type of manatee without nails on the forelimbs.

West African Manatee (Trichechus senegalensis)

Found in coastal areas, in both saltwater and freshwater, the West African Manatee commonly resides in the tropical and sub-tropical zones of Western Africa. With a size of 10-13 feet and weight of 1,100 pounds, the West African Manatee is bigger than the Amazonian Manatee, though of similar size and appearance to the West Indian Manatee except for its blunter snout. The manatee is typically herbivorous, but may occasionally feed on small fish and shellfish.

West Indian Manatee (Trichechus manatus)

With gray, somewhat brown skin, rounded tail and a set of nails on its forelimbs, the West Indian Manatee is the largest and most well-known Sirenian. It grows to 13 feet and weighs up to 3,300 pounds. Usually found in the marshy coastal regions of Southeastern United States, Central and South America, the Caribbean and in the Gulf of Mexico, the West Indian Manatee has two subspecies: Florida Manatee and Antillean Manatee.

Florida Manatee (Trichechus manatus latirostris)

This most recognized group of manatees is commonly found off the coasts of Southeastern United States and along the Gulf of Mexico. In Florida, the manatee is found gathered in large numbers in the springs of Crystal River, particularly in winter when they seek warmer waters. People travel from around the globe to watch these sea giants in their natural habitat. The Florida Manatee is larger in size than the Antillean Manatee. They have elongated round bodies that taper to a flat, paddle-shaped tail. And their head and face are wrinkled with whiskers on the snout.

Antillean Manatee (Trichechus manatus manatus)

This subspecies of the West Indian Manatee is found in the Caribbean and along the Coast of Central America. They are very closely related to manatees found along the coast of Florida, but they are smaller in size compared to Florida manatees. They grow up to 12 feet in length and can weigh up to 3000 pounds, though commonly just 9-10 feet and 1,000 pounds. They feed primarily on sea grass, spend several hours per day grazing, and are slow in nature. Historically, Antillean manatees were hunted by locals and sold to explorers for food. Today, they face several threats, including loss of habitat, vessel strikes, entanglement in fishing gear and poaching.

At Captain Mike’s, we treasure manatees and are committed to helping others learn about them and care for these amazing but endangered creatures. We offer guided manatee tours in Crystal River and take part in efforts to protect the animals. A ride with us through the springs and an hour or more in the water with manatees will give you memories for a lifetime. Want to know more about manatees and manatee tours in Crystal River, Florida? Visit Captain Mike’s Swimming with the Manatees website or stop by for a tour.

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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