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West Indian manatee (Trichechus manatus)

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The West Indian manatee is currently divided into two subspecies: the Florida and Antillean manatees. Florida manatees (T. m. latirostris) are found only in the United States, although a few vagrants have been known to reach the Bahamas. Their year-round distribution is restricted to peninsular Florida because they need warm water to survive the winter. During the non-winter months (March to November), some manatees disperse to adjoining states. Along the Atlantic coast these states include Georgia (highest manatee use outside of Florida), South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia; one satellite-tagged manatee traveled as far north as Rhode Island (Deutsch et al. 2003), and another manatee was observed in New York (Long Island). Along the Gulf coast west of Florida, manatees are occasionally sighted in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. The source (Florida or Mexico) of the Texas manatees is not always clear, but the weight of recent genetic and other evidence suggests most are from the Florida subspecies. Major freshwater bodies utilized by manatees in Florida include Lake Okeechobee, St. Johns River, Suwannee River, Caloosahatchee River, among others.

During the warm season (March or April through October or November, depending on latitude and year), manatees disperse throughout the coastal waters, estuaries, and major rivers of Florida and some migrate to neighboring states, particularly south-eastern Georgia. Their range constricts dramatically in the winter season (December to February) when manatees seek shelter from the cold at a limited number of warm-water sites or areas in the southern two-thirds of Florida. These sites include 10 principal power plant thermal outfalls (seven on the Atlantic coast, three on the Gulf coast) and four major artesian springs (Blue Spring, springs at the head of Crystal River, Homosassa Spring, and Warm Mineral Spring) that are frequented by a large proportion of the manatee population during winter.

The Antillean Manatee (T. m. manatus) inhabits riverine and coastal systems in the tropical and subtropical Western Atlantic Coastal Zone from the Bahamas to Brazil, including the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico. Although at least one individual in the Bahamas is a known migrant from Florida (Reid 2000, 2001), the Bahamas is detailed in this T. m. manatus assessment rather than the T. m. latirostris assessment. During the past decade, populations have been confirmed in the coastal waters and/or rivers of at least 19 of the 37 countries with historical records (Table 1); a population may be extant in Haiti (Ottenwalder 1995), although in very reduced numbers if at all. Rare sightings, categorized as vagrants, have been documented in five additional countries (Debrot Gore pers. comm).

PHYLUM: Chordata
CLASS: Mammalia
ORDER: Sirenia
FAMILY: Trichechidae
GENUS: Trichechus
SPECIES: manatus

TOOTHED or TOOTHLESS (BALEEN): Toothed

FRESHWATER, SALTERWATER or BRACKISH: Fresh and saltwater

HABITAT: In the Atlantic along the coast of North America and South America. Shallow waters, rivers and estuaries.

LENGTH (maximum): 12-14 Ft

WEIGHT (maximum): 3,000 lbs

RELATIVE SPECIES: Amazonian manatee, West African manatee

NEIGHBORING SPECIES: Amazonian manatee, bottlenose dolphin

PREDATORS: Humans

This species is classified as VULNERABLE according to the IUCN's Red List.
This species is classified as VULNERABLE according to the IUCN’s Red List.

THREATS: Illegally hunted for oil, meat and bones, which are carved and sold as jewelry. Most deaths occur from collisions with boat motors, entanglement in fishing nets and pollution.

DIET: Aquatic plants

MANNER OF FEEDING: Use their large lips to help grasp plants. May also hold or maneuver vegetation with their flippers.

BEHAVIOR: Usually solitary, but may form small groups when mating or feeding. Mothers will drive away an intruder to protect her calf. Feed for 6-8 hours a day. Females move very little during the day compared to males. When mating, they often touch, clasp and roll with each other.

REPRODUCTION: gestation lasts 12-14 months. Calves are weaned at 18 months to 3 years of age. When a female is in estrus, she will attract a herd of males that will stay with her for a week or two.

LIFE SPAN: 60-70 years

COOL/GROSS/WEIRD:

  • Covered with hair.
  • Protected by the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act.
  • Rarely gives births to twins, sometimes can have a very young calf and an older calf at the same time.

SOURCES:

  • Guide to Marine Mammals of the World.Random House. 2002

-TSF-

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