Travel Magazine

Mad Mammals: The Manatee

By Frontiergap @FrontierGap

An exciting event recently took place for Frontier Volunteers when they spotted not one, but TWO, majestic manatees in Belize whilst taking part in the Belize Marine Conservation & Diving. Manatees are incredibly rare, with less than 1000 individuals estimated to live in the coastal waters of Belize, our team has had unbelievable luck spotting two in two days.

Mad Mammals: The Manatee
Image Courtesy of David Hinkel

So what makes Manatees qualify as a ‘mad mammal’? We’ve compiled a list of mental manatee facts to show you how unique they really are:


1. Mantees are also known as Sea Cows, just like their terrestrial counterparts they eat grass, are large, and are very relaxed. However, considering ancestral Sea Cows evolved way before our modern domestic cattle (15 million years ago VS 2 million years ago), should we perhaps rename terrestrial cows ‘Land Cows’ instead? Technically Manatees got there first, so I think so. So what similarities do they have (or not have) with their namesake?

  • Unlike land cows, manatees don’t moo, this may be because they don’t actually have any vocal chords! However, they do their best; they can squeak, squeal and scream. Have a listen : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1CzEebdc1pg
  • Sea Cows are also utterly udderless, unlike land cows.  They feed their young by means of teats located underneath their large, paddle like flippers.

2. Talking of teats, the word Manatee comes from the Taíno word manatí, which means breast. The manatee isn’t alone in this strange naming; ancient Mastodon’s (an extinct elephant-like relative of Manatees) name translates into ‘breast teeth’ in English. Very odd.

3. Sea cows belong to a group of sea mammals known as sirenians. Sound familiar? Sirens are the mythical mermaids that would sing to lure sailors to their deaths. Somehow ancient sailors mistook the massive manatees for mermaids... We don’t see it either.

4. The closest living relatives of Sirenia are the Elephants, a rather unexpected revelation.

5. In comparison to other marine mammals they are a little bit slow, with their average speed at around 5mph, and their top speed at 15mph. However this speedy swimming would actually allow a manatee to outpace even the fastest swimmer alive, Frederick Bousquet is currently the fastest person in water with his top speed at 5.34mph.

6. Just like sloths they move so slowly that they actually have moss growing on them.

Mad Mammals: The Manatee
Image courtesy of Keith Ramos

7. As they are mammals, they breathe air; however, they are fully aquatic, and can hold their breath for up to 15 minutes underwater.

8. Just like a big cuddly dog, they like to have their belly rubbed.

9. Manatee appreciation day is the last Wednesday of March.

10. They can live in both fresh and salty water. This may not seem that special but in fact very few aquatic animals can do this; including salmon, sea lions, and bull sharks.

11. They can eat A LOT. The equivalent of 1/10th of their body weight in 24 hours!

Mad Mammals: The Manatee
Image Courtesy of Karen

12. Despite their huge appetite, they have very low body fat. So why do they look so large?  They actually have big bellies because of a huge gut and digestive system contained within, this is needed to break down the tough sea grass and extract the nutrients needed to survive.

13. According to Sir David Attenborough, sea cows have very stinky breath. This hasn’t yet been scientifically investigated, but it’s suggested that it’s due to their plant based diet.

14. Manatees are so big that nothing hunts them, and so tranquil that they have never made any animal enemies. Manatees are effectively, big, fat, happy hippies of the sea.

15. Finally, due to their docile nature, manatees seem to have a very calming effect on people. Feeling stressed? Let the manatees chill you out : http://calmingmanatee.com/6

 By Becky Salen

Fancy the chance to meet a manatee yourself? Check out our Belize Marine Conservation & Diving Project in Belize.

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Mad Mammals: The Manatee


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