The Sirenians (manatees and dugongs) are more closely related to elephants than to other marine mammals such as whales and dolphins.
The only surviving members of this order today are the three species of manatee (West Indian, African and Amazonian) and the dugong. The West Indian manatee feeds primarily on sea grass, spending hours at a time grazing. Individuals require freshwater for drinking and so are often found in areas such as creeks and canals where fresh water is available.
The greatest threat to the West Indian manatee in Florida is collisions with watercraft such as boats and jet skis which happen frequently in the densely populated coastal regions and accounts for 35% of known causes of death. Other threats to this gentle, slow moving animal include human disturbance, accidental mortality in flood control structures or fishing equipment and habitat degradation.
- Order: Sirenia
- Family: Trichechidae
- Population: <2,500
- Trend: decreasing
- Size: 3-4 m
- Weight: 500kg
Florida manatees (T. m. latirostris) are found only in the United States, although a few have been known to migrate as far as the Bahamas. The Antillean, or Caribbean, Manatee (T. m. manatus) inhabits riverine and coastal systems in the tropical and subtropical areas from the Bahamas to Brazil, including the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico.
Habitat and Ecology
They are found in shallow rivers, canals, saltwater bays, estuaries, lagoons and coastal areas. Because they lack a thick layer of insulating body fat and have an extremely low metabolic rate, they prefer to stay in water that is more than 20°C but can endure temperatures as low as 13.5°C. Manatees require fresh water for drinking and so will be found in areas such as creeks where freshwater is available. Sea grass is their primary food source and adults may spend hours grazing at a time.