cuba naturaleza .org - Biosphere, Fauna and Flora in Cuba
  • English (United Kingdom)
  • Español(Spanish Formal International)
Biosphere, Fauna and Flora in Cuba Naturaleza
Cuba Naturaleza Biodiversity

Antillean manatee (Trichechus manatus manatus), known as the sea cow

Antillean manatee (Trichechus manatus manatus)
Scientific name: Trichechus manatus manatus
Common name (english): Antillean manatee
Common name (spanish): Manatí Antillano

The Antillean manatee is subspecies of the West Indian manatee. Also known as the sea cow, it is a large, gentle, grayish-brown mammal that spends its entire life in the water feeding on seagrass.

The Antillean manatee (Trichechus manatus manatus) is considered endangered because of its reduced numbers, poor knowledge about its population status, and human modification of rivers, estuaries and coastal areas which it inhabits.

The manatee's preferred habitat is shallow, coastal waters, estuaries, canals, and slow-moving rivers. They flourish in warm waters with a depth of 1 to 5 meters. Manatees tolerate differences in salinity, and thus can inhabit both fresh and saltwater.

Adult manatees are 3 meters long on average (10 ft), and weigh an average of 500 kg (1,100 lbs). Some individuals reach a length of 4.6 meters (15 ft), and a weight of 1,000 kg (2,200 lbs) or more. Females are typically larger and heavier than males.

Manatees have flexible, split upper lips which pass food into their mouths. Their skin is wrinkled and they have whiskers on their snouts. Individual hairs appear sparsely on their bodies, and their skin continually sloughs off, which may help to reduce algae build-up.

Manatees move slowly and spend most of their time eating, resting and migrating. They have a low metabolism and consume about 10-15% of their body weight daily. To achieve this rate, they must eat for 6 to 8 hours each day. Manatees must surface to breathe every 2 to 4 minutes, or much more frequently-every 30 seconds-when active. Each breath renews about 90% of the air in their lungs, as opposed to about 10% for humans. Their nostrils are valved and located at the top of their snouts.

Historically, manatees have been hunted for their meat, hide and bones. Hunting continues to this day in Central and South America. In modern times, they face the extreme danger of collisions with motorboats. Manatees are also threatened by loss of habitat, which is often due to agricultural and industrial runoff. Other dangers include entrapment in flood gates and canal locks, red tides, and cold stress. They have no known predators other than man.

No one knows how many Antillean manatees exist today, but there are assumed to be fewer than 2,500. The Antillean subspecies is less protected than the Florida manatee and they are found in very small populations throughout their range. They are considered endangered.

Cuba Naturaleza Biodiversity

© 2023 Nigel Hunt