25 Manatee Facts That Show How Fascinating They Are

Posted by , Updated on March 23, 2024

Manatees, the gentle and endearing aquatic giants, are most often seen either sleeping or grazing. These large, herbivore marine mammals implant a sense of delight, but sadly, they are threatened due to factors like loss of habitat and fatal interactions with boats. Current estimations suggest that only between 7,634 and 10,434 individuals of the West Indian manatees remain. For Amazonian manatees, the exact population figure remains unknown, but it is believed to be equally alarming. It’s unfortunate that this magnificent creature is nearing extinction. This list is intended to raise awareness about these wonderful animals and reveal 25 interesting facts about manatees.

Images: Shutterstock unless otherwise noted.


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

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

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

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

Scarred manatee swimming with diverSource: savethemanatees.org

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

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

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

Manatee in open watersSource: savethemanatees.org

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

Older manateeSource: savethemanatees.org

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

manatees-eyesSource: savethemanatees.org

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

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

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.


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

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

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

Manatees moving slowlySource: Smithsonian.com, savethemanatees.org

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

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

Manatee looking upSource: Smithsonian.com

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

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

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

MermaidSource: Smithsonian.com

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

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

Elephant and ManateeSource: Smithsonian.com

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

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

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

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

manatee eating lettuceSource: Savethemanatee.org

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