Manatees are probably some of the strangest looking creatures in the world. They’re mammals, but they spend their entire lives in the water (like dolphins.) Unlike sleek and fast dolphins, manatees are roly-poly creatures that move pretty slow. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t still amazing animals, though!
Since it’s Manatee Awareness Month, this is the perfect time to learn more about the lovable creature that is sometimes called a “sea cow.” Here are five fun facts about manatees!
The Manatee’s Closest Relative Will Surprise You
All animals can be grouped into “families” with other types of animals that are biologically similar. You might think that the closest living relative to the manatee was something like the dolphin, but it’s not true. Surprisingly, the closest living relative to the manatee is the elephant! They are both descended from a common ancestor! This might be one reason that male manatees are called bulls, female manatees are called cows and babies are called calves – these are the same terms that we use for elephants.
Some Manatees Can Live in any Type of Water
Most aquatic animals live either in only saltwater or only fresh water. Not some breeds of manatees, though! The West Indian and West African manatees live right at the point where rivers flow into oceans. These amazing animals need a combination of both salty and fresh water, and their bodies have specifically evolved to have the right balance of salt.
Manatees Have Incredible Appetites
Manatees are herbivores, which means that they eat plants as their sole food source. They can be found in the ocean and in rivers chomping down on underwater plants and algae. While that’s not so different from lots of other animals, the amount that they eat might surprise you. Adult manatees can eat around 100 to 150 pounds of plant matter every day! This would be similar to adult humans eating their own weight in salad every day!
Sailors Thought that Manatees Were Something Else for a Long Time
Manatees live throughout the world, and they have come in contact with sailors thousands of times over the years. Early sailors didn’t know what they were looking at when they saw manatees over the sides of their ships, however. Historians now believe that many sightings of “mermaids” were actually sightings of manatees! While we think of mermaids as being beautiful young women, people in earlier times probably thought that mermaids looked a bit different.
Nothing Hunts Manatees … Except for Humans
In the wild, most manatees live in shallow waters and in rivers. In their natural home, there aren’t many predators that can hunt them. It seems fitting that such a peaceful creature doesn’t have any enemies in the wild.
One group has been responsible for wiping out many types of manatees however – human beings. In earlier times, humans hunted manatees for everything from their oil to their bones. Along with many other species, so many manatees were hunted that the animals couldn’t recover their numbers fast enough.
Many more manatees are killed by accident. Since they like to swim and eat in shallow waters around the world, their habitats cross over with humans in motor boats. When these boats travel near manatees, they risk killing these gentle animals with their propellers.
For Manatee Awareness Month, do your part by learning more about these amazing animals. If you’d like to see them make a comeback, consider donating to causes that protect manatee habitats and that help prevent them from going extinct! If we work hard right now, we can help ensure that our descendants will still live in a world full of manatees.