Fun facts about the endangered manatee

Manatees are harmless and graceful creatures, and although they don’t have any natural predators, they have become endangered due to water pollution

A woman pets an endangered manatee - Photo: Marc Serota/REUTERS

26/05/2018 18:44



Manatees are aquatic mammals. They’re usually very large and can weigh around 1,200 pounds. This may seem intimidating, but manatees are harmless and graceful creatures, and though they don’t have any natural predators, they have become endangered due to water pollution. Although the Mexican government has taken measures to protect the species, in the Upper Gulf of California, the sea cow population is growing small, with only 30 specimens left. Here are some fun facts about the manatee: 

In Mexico, it is also known as vaca de mar” (sea cow), for being the only herbivorous sea mammal.


It belongs to the order sirenia, and is divided into three species: the Amazonian manatee (Trichechus inunguis), the West African

(Trichechus senegalensis), and the Caribbean manatee (Trichechus

manatus), which lives in Mexico.


Manatees swim at the Blue Springs State Park in Orange City - Photo: John Raoux/AP


The Mexica people used to call them tlacamichin

, which means “man-fish.” The Mayans, on the other hand, called it chiilbek, or “large fish.”


The elephant is the manatees closest terrestrial relative. It is believed that the sea cow evolved from terrestrial pachyderms

around 50 million years ago. Their ancestors are assumed to have become stuck in water.


In 1996, the Chetumal Bay

was declared a Protected Natural Area and sanctuary, given that the largest colony of manatees in Mexico lives in its waters, with around 200 specimens.


The Xel-Há park in the Riviera Maya is home to a few specimens that were rescued from Tabasco. Visitors are allowed to interact with these creatures.


Their diet consists of water hyacinths and seagrass. They spend more than half of their day chewing and ingesting the equivalent of 10% their corporal mass,

namely between 66 and 110 pounds of plants.


Every ten minutes, these animals rise to the surface in order to breathe and fill 90% of their lungs with fresh air. They can hold their breath

underwater for up to 20 minutes.


The National Manatee Day is celebrated on September 7

, since 1999.


Manatees can measure up to 14 feet long.


They can weigh as much as 1.5 tons

. They’re usually born weighing 1,102 pounds.


It is estimated that there are 2,000 specimens left in the world.


They can live up to 25 years in their natural environment. When in captivity, they can live for up to 60 years.


A rescued manatee eats a head of lettuce - Photo: Wilfredo Lee/AP


On his first voyage to the Americas, Christopher Columbus

told that he had observed three mermaids from the prow of his ship. One of his sailors heard the story from Columbus, and described them in the following way: “When the Admiral was heading for the Del Oro river, he said he had seen three mermaids coming out of the water, but that they weren’t nearly as beautiful as people say; their faces had masculine features.” In reality, he had seen manatees.


They can survive in both fresh and

saltwater since they have developed an internal regulation system in their kidneys to control salt levels in their bodies. However, they need larger amounts of seawater to keep themselves hydrated.



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