5 things you might not know about manatees

Close up of the a manatee floating underwater looking at the camera

Manatees are large, marine mammals often associated with Florida. But did you know these gentle animals are found all over the Caribbean Sea? Learn more about where manatees live, why they are sometimes called “sea cows”, and what WWF is doing to protect their habitats with these facts:

1. Where do manatees live?

West Indian manatees (Trichechus manatus) live throughout the Caribbean, including Mexico, Belize, Colombia, and Brazil. They move between freshwater rivers, mangrove forests, and saltwater seagrass beds to find food and shelter.

2. What do manatees eat?

Manatees are herbivores. They graze along the seabed and eat seagrasses, giving them the nickname “sea cow”. Their grazing helps to maintain balance in marine and freshwater ecosystems.

3. Why do manatees like mangroves?

Mangrove trees grow in salty water along the coast between rivers and oceans all over the Caribbean. The trees grow tightly together, creating small open passageways over the water that provide safe underwater shelter for manatees to rest, raise young, and find food.

4. Are manatees at risk?

Boat traffic, deforestation, and pollution all threaten manatees and their habitats. Due to these threats, the slow-moving marine mammals are currently listed as “vulnerable” by the IUCN Red List.

5. How does WWF protect manatees and their habitats?

WWF is working in places like Belize where we are partnering with local communities and organizations to protect seagrass beds and restore and protect key mangrove areas, and in Mexico through our Mangroves for Community and Climate program. By protecting coastal ecosystems, we are also preserving valuable habitat for manatees.