25 Manatee Facts That Show How Fascinating They Are

Posted by , Updated on November 10, 2016

Manatees are adorable giants with a gentle demeanor and an endearing curiosity. Most of the day, you can catch these large, fully aquatic, herbivorous mammals either sleeping or eating. Sadly, issues such as habitat loss and run-ins with boats have endangered them. In fact, it’s estimated that only about 7,634 to 10,434 West Indian manatees exist. The Amazonian manatee population count is not available, but scientists believe their numbers are not large either. It’s sad that such an incredible creature is in danger of going extinct. On this list, we are going to bring awareness to this incredible animal. These are 25 manatee facts that show how fascinating they are.

Images: Shutterstock unless otherwise noted.

25

Though manatees average about three meters (9.8 feet) long and weigh between 362-544 kilograms (800 – 1,200 pounds), some manatees have been known to reach lengths of about four meters (13 feet) and weigh over 1,587 kilograms (3,500 pounds).

Manatee and diverSource: savethemanatees.org
24

Manatees do not have blowholes. They breathe through nostrils similar to seals.

manatees-showing-off-their-nosesSource: savethemanatees.org
23

Researchers use scars from watercraft collisions in order to identify manatees.

Scarred manatee swimming with diverSource: savethemanatees.org
22

In order to tell a female from a male manatee, look at the underside of a manatee. The genital opening of the male is just below the belly button, and the female’s genital opening is just above the anus.

The underside of a manateeSource: savethemanatees.org
21

In what may seem somewhat counter-intuitive, power plant effluents play a critical role in manatee protection. Manatees use the plant effluents as winter warm water refugia which protect manatees during cold spells.

Manatees swimming in warm waters from a power plantSource: savethemanatees.org

20

Manatees cannot turn their heads sideways. In order to look around, it has to turn its whole body.

Manatee in open watersSource: savethemanatees.org
19

A manatee’s age can be determined by the annual growth rings in its ear bones.

Older manateeSource: savethemanatees.org
18

Manatees do not have eyelashes, and their eye muscles close in a circular motion.

manatees-eyesSource: savethemanatees.org
17

It’s believed that the word manatee comes from the Carib word “manati,” meaning woman’s breast.

Manatee in a clear pool of waterSource: savethemanatees.org
16

Manatees are sometimes called “sea cows.” It’s believed this name comes from the fact that manatees are herbivores like cows.

Sea cowSource: savethemanatees.org
15

Manatees have fingernails with three to four nails on each flipper? Only West African and West Indian manatees (including the Florida manatee) have fingernails though.

Manatee nailsSource: savethemanatees.org

If you think this is fascinating, wait until you see number 4.

14

A population for manatees world wide is difficult to acquire. However, estimates state that there are between 7,634 and 10,434 West Indian manatees. No population estimate for the Amazonian manatee is available.

Lonely manateeSource: savethemanatees.org
13

Manatees are a migratory species and concentrate in Florida during the winter. In summer months, they can be found as far west as Texas or as far north as Massachusetts.

Manatees in FloridaSource: savethemanatees.org
12

Manatees are slow movers with swimming speeds of only 3 to 5 miles per hour.

Manatees moving slowlySource: Smithsonian.com, savethemanatees.org
11

Manatees have no natural predators. However, humans have been instrumental in bringing this animal close to extinction mainly due to boat collisions.

Manatee zoneSource: Smithsonian.com
10

Unlike most mammals that possess seven neck vertebrae, manatees only possess six vertebrae.

Manatee looking upSource: Smithsonian.com
9

Female manatees usually only have one calf every two to five years, and it's estimated that manatees can live to about 60 years. However, research by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission revealed that few manatees were living past the age of 30, well below their estimated life expectancy.

Manatee and calfSource: Savethemanatee.org, Smithsonian.com
8

Though their brain ratio to their body size is the lowest of any mammal, manatees can still learn basic tasks and can differentiate between colors.

Manatee and diverSource: Smithsonian.com
7

It’s believed that Christopher Columbus and other early explorers confused manatees with what they believed were mermaids.

MermaidSource: Smithsonian.com
6

The now-extinct sea cow (the largest member of the order Sirenia) was driven to extinction 27 years after first being described due to hunting and competition for their kelp food source.

Extinct sea cowSource: Smithsonian.com
5

Manatees and elephants evolved from the same land animals over 50 million years ago.

Elephant and ManateeSource: Smithsonian.com
4

Manatees can hold their breath for up to 20 minutes, and when they do take a breath, 90 percent of the air in their lungs is replaced. (To compare, a human replaces about 10 percent of air when he/she breathes.)

Manatee holding breatheSource: Smithsonian.com
3

In spite of their appearance, manatees have minimal fat protection which makes them susceptible to cold temperatures. In 2010, Florida saw the death of around 246 manatees due to cold stress from the abnormally cold winter.

manatee from murky watersSource: Smithsonian.com
2

Manatees are herbivores and eat about 10 to 15 percent of their body weight every day. With some manatees weighing around 800 to 1,200 pounds, that’s a lot of veggies in a day.

Manatee eating greensSource: Savethemanatee.org, Smithsonian.com
1

Furthermore, manatees are the ONLY herbivorous aquatic mammals in existence.

manatee eating lettuceSource: Savethemanatee.org

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