What are Manatees

The manatee (Trichechus sp) is a peaceful air breathing marine mammal commonly known as a sea cow due to its large body size, along with its slow, seemingly relaxed nature, similar to cows in their own habitat. Unlike many other marine mammals, the Manatee is a herbivore which is commonly located in warmer climates such as the Caribbean sea stretching over to the western African waters. The manatee needs to inhabit warm waters in order to survive, while they are large in stature they have very little body fat therefore cannot survive in colder climates such as the artic where other marine mammals thrive. Manatee are often noted to migrate from their location in search of warmer waters when the temperature in the water approaches 20 degrees celsius.

West Indian Manatees, in a tropical warm waters (source)

While having low body fat, which requires them to remain in warmer waters, the lack of movement per day only usually travelling 5 miles per hour most of which is the current of the shallow waters in which they are located within. Results in the Manatee having to feed on one tenth of its own body weight every single day equating to roughly 60kg of plant eating per day to remain at optimal levels and warm. They remain close to the surface as they are required to breathe oxygen from the every once every 5 minutes. They are able to steer themselves using their flippers and uses its tail to propel it forwards when the mammals is targeting a location or aiming to approach the surface once again.

Specific species of Manatee

There are only three distinct species of Manatee which are named based on their locations: The West African Manatee (Trichechus senegalensis), The West Indian Manatee (Trichechus manatus), and the Amazonian Manatee (Trichechus inunguis). Each species of manatee have fine collections of hair around their snout which are believed to be useful in giving the Manatees a greater sense of direction. They also are found to have a restriction which does not occur in most mammals, this restriction is the fact that they only have six vertebrae in their neck instead of seven which means that Manatee cannot turn their head like their other mammalian counterparts. However this is not seen as a great disadvantage to the species as there are no known predators of the sea cow.

Lacerations on a manatee from the impact of a boat propeller – Honesty to paws

Threats to the Manatee

While there is not any known predators of the Manatee, They still unfortunately found themselves listed as endangered until March 2017 where it was announced that they were no longer endangered however they are now listed as threatened. The most common threat currently to manatee survival is man. The most growing cause for Manatee death is accidental collisions with boat propellers which can cut the thick layer of skin on the mammal which, the collisions can be fatal however if the manatee can survive the collision and does not receive medical treatment, it is likely that the wounds will become infected leading to the potential death of the animal.

Video: Boat crashes after trying to avoid a Manatee

One of the reasons that manatee collisions occur so frequently is due to the fact that the Manatee are constantly searching for a warmer climate with enough food to be sustained, however in these marshy areas with many plants it is very easy to not spot the manatee slowly floating below the surface of the water. It is a large problem for the manatee to share its coastal habitat with humans, with humans ever expanding, they require more space and resources which leads to the destruction of Manatee habitat where enough food is present to sustain the Manatee, causing them to go out into boat infested waters in order to search for a sustainable environment.

What options are there?

While the news of the Manatee no longer being listed as endangered is a great start, there is still a long way to go to ensure Manatee safety so that they never face the possibility of extinction again. Despite the fact that most Manatee deaths due to humans are entirely accidental, more awareness such as Manatee awareness month, and campaigns in what you can do to help, is being spread in these areas in which the manatees like to inhabit causing boaters to be more cautious in these areas greatly reducing the number of injured manatee per year. However the accidental collisions with boats will not be removed all together as long as humans and manatees inhabit the same areas, because accidents will happen. It is also important to ensure that the habitat of these animals is not destroyed forcing them into colder waters which may cause the manatees to shut down internally.


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