The Antillean manatee (Trichechus manatus manatus) is an herbivorous aquatic mammal that lives along the coasts of many Caribbean islands, Central America, and northeastern South America (from Colombia to Brazil). It is closely related to the Florida manatee−they are considered part of the same species but are genetically diverse and morphologically distinct enough to be considered subspecies.

Antillean manatees inhabit rivers, lakes, lagoons, and coastal marine environments including seagrass, mangrove, and coral reef ecosystems. They are able to stay in estuarine or marine environments for extended periods of time, although they require periodic access to freshwater.

Manatees are mostly solitary but form breeding herds or structureless groups called aggregations. They don’t have many threats from predators besides humans since killer whales and larger sharks generally aren’t found in the same coastal habitats. This means that they haven’t developed complex predator avoidance strategies. They generally move slowly, about 8 kilometers (5 miles) per hour. Like all marine mammals, they must breathe air above the surface of the water.

Major threats to the survival of the Antillean manatee include habitat degradation and loss, hunting, collisions with boats, entanglement in fishing gear, pollution, natural disasters, and human disturbance. Threats from hunting may be declining in some areas, but all other threats are increasing overall.

The Antillean manatee has a low reproduction rate and breeding females will generally give birth to one calf every two years. The population of mature adult species in the wild is estimated at less than 2,500, and the Antillean manatee is listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

  1. Why are manatees sometimes called sea cows?

  2. How can boaters avoid collisions with manatees when navigating through the water?

  3. Where does the Antillean part of the manatees’ name come from?

aquatic
Adjective

having to do with water.

coral reef
Noun

rocky ocean features made up of millions of coral skeletons.

Noun

organism threatened with extinction.

estuarine
Adjective

having to do with an estuary.

genetic diversity
Noun

difference or variety of units of inheritance (genes) in a species.

habitat degradation
Noun

decline in species-specific habitat quality that leads to reduced survival and/or reproductive success in that species.

Noun

organism that eats mainly plants and other producers.

herd
Noun

group of animals.

Noun

shallow body of water that may have an opening to a larger body of water, but is also protected from it by a sandbar or coral reef.

mammal
Noun

animal with hair that gives birth to live offspring. Female mammals produce milk to feed their offspring.

mangrove
Noun

type of tree or shrub with long, thick roots that grows in salty water.

marine
Adjective

having to do with the ocean.

morphology
Noun

study of the form and structure of organisms or materials.