The adorable West Indian Manatee is the largest surviving member of its order. This unique ocean creature is currently listed by the IUCN as Endangered.
The West Indian Manatee has been divided into two subspecies by genetic studies:
- the Florida manatee and
- the Antillean manatee
This aquatic mammal is thankfully the focus of numerous conservation efforts. Their distinctive appearance has earned them the nickname of the sea cow.
The primary threats to their existence, not surprisingly, are climate change and human activities.
West Indian Manatee Distribution and Ecology
As the species name implies, the West Indian Manatee is primarily, though not wholly, endemic to the West Indies. Their full range extends from the east coast of the United States to the northeastern tip of South America.
They live almost exclusively in shallow coastal areas but are highly adaptable, and could even enter shallow rivers and estuaries as well.
The manatees are generally solitary creatures, grouping together only for mating. They are primarily herbivorous, but will occasionally feed on fish and small invertebrates.
However, their main predator – who is not natural – is humans. According to Courtney Edwards from Save the Manatee Club, humans account for almost 39% of manatee deaths, where the cause of fatality is known. This includes deaths from watercraft, locks/canals, and other human-related sources, such as thrown away fishing lines. Hunting for manatees is still a part of some cultures as well.
Other non-human related threats to manatees are red tide and cold stress.
Below, you will find a simple graphic of the endemic range of the West Indian Manatee.