The physical appearance and slow pace of manatees is the reason for their other name, the “sea cow.” In the wild, the average life span of manatees is 40 years old.


Manatees are found in marine, estuarine and freshwater environments. They live primarily in coastal, marshy habitats in the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico, the Amazon Basin, and West Africa.


Manatees are mostly herbivorous animals, feeding on vegetation such as turtle grass and mangrove leaves. Manatees eat over 60 different types of plants and occasionally some invertibrates.


Manatees do not have any real natural predators. The main causes of death for manatees stem from human-related issues such as habitat degradation and collisions with boats and ships (see photo below), as well as natural causes such as disease and temperature. Marine debris is also a threat to manatees, as they can become entangled or ingest debris items, such as the manatee pictured below that has a t-shirt in its mouth.


Manatees are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and are considered “Endangered” under the Endangered Species Act. It is illegal under federal law to injure or harm a manatee.