The Antillean Manatee (Trichechus manatus manatus) is an aquatic, marine (saltwater) mammal in the Sirenia order of dugongs. It is also known as a Sea Cow, West Indian Manatee, or Caribbean Manatee. It is not a seal. It is related to the dugong and the elephant.
The Antillean Manatee looks like a large, grey seal with flippers and a paddle tail. It has lungs, not gills, because it is a mammal, and therefore it needs to come to the surface to breathe. It has a prehensile snout (nose), like an elephant, so that it can grab water plants and bring them to its mouth. It has 6-8 teeth in each jaw. It has short, sparse, sensitive hairs called vibrissae. Each individual hair is called a vibrissal. The vibrissae around its mouth are like whiskers.
It is buoyant due to its high fat content, and air in its lungs. It has a long diaphragm that is split into two parts which can make its lungs contract independently of each other. This is a unique feature of the Antillean Manatee.
It grows up to 350-450 centimetres (138-177 inches) in length.
It is native to the Caribbean coastal waters and the north-western Atlantic Ocean, from Mexico, east to the Greater Antilles, and south to Brazil, along the coatst of The Bahamas, French Guiana, Suriname, Guyana, Trinidad, Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, Belize, Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico.
It prefers shallow seas and water ways. It is fully aquatic, and does not leave the water.
It can swim gracefully, perform somersaults, and swim upside down. It uses its flippers and padde tail to manoeuvre in the water.
It is vegetarian, grazing on aquatic plants. It spends most of its time eating.
The Antillean Manatee is mainly solitary, but it can form small, temporary groups, known as aggregations. The female is pregnant for 330-400 days, before giving birth to 1-2 live young. The young are dependent upon their mother for about two years.
It lives, on average, for 30 years.
[Location of photographs: Parc Zoologique de Paris in Bois de Vincennes, France]
Photographer: Martina Nicolls
Martina Nicolls: SIMILAR BUT DIFFERENT IN THE ANIMAL KINGDOM