Known as the cows of the sea for eating all day and their passivity, they have only one natural enemy: man.
This gentle and even docile animal lives in the warm tropical waters of the world, divided into two large groups:
- The West Indian manatee, once abundant, is now listed as an endangered species on UIC lists. This species of manatee is primarily found around the Florida peninsula, but has been seen as far as Rhode Island. There are also small groups living in Mexico, northeastern South America, and the Caribbean. They are also seen as far south as Brazil, Central and South America.
- West African manatees range from Senegal to Angola, Africa. Amazonian manatees live in fresh water. They inhabit areas around the Amazon basin, in Brazil. The number has been drastically reduced to a few who live in Peru, Ecuador and Colombia.
Manatees or sea cows are primarily herbivores. The main food of the manatee is the vegetal matter found along the coast, submerged, floating and emergent, such as algae, mangrove leaves, acorns or water lilies, but they are sometimes seen eating fish and clams.
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They weigh approximately 800 to 1,200 pounds.
They generally grow up to 10 to 13 feet long.
The females are normally larger than the males. A female manatee was found weighing 3.650 pounds.
A manatee has a streamlined body, more padding around the center of its body which then tapers and ends in a paddle-shaped tail.
They are gray in color but may appear more brown or green due to the algae growing on their body. They have two small pectoral fins that they use to direct, eat, and hug other manatees.
Manatee are not aggressive or territorial. They tend to socialize freely in groups, but spend most of their time alone eating and sleeping.
Gestation and reproduction: a female manatee only produces one calf every two to five years. Twins do occur occasionally, but this is rare. This is one of the reasons why their numbers are so low now. Their slow reproductive rate cannot keep up with the number of manatees that are regularly killed. That is why in different countries they have come under the legal protection of local governments.
Gestation time is 12 months. The calf is normally weaned within a year, but stays with the mother for two years to learn about feeding and migration routes.
Life expectancy and cause of death:
These aquatic mammals can live naturally for 50 to 60 years. The unfortunate truth is that more manatees die from human causes, hunted and run over by boats than from natural causes.
Like other species, they are dependent on the ecosystems that support them; natural habitats such as mangroves and shallow waters in the Caribbean Sea area.
In Mexico the population has been reduced to about 1,000 specimens, of which a quarter are in the Quintana Roo area, and live constantly threatened by tourist developments that devastate the habitat of this as well as the Spider monkeys natives of the area.