Trichechus – Manatees

Freshwater herbivores inhabit the shallow marshes and rivers of coastal areas

Manatees, also known as sea cows, are marine mammals known for their immense size and gentle nature. These graceful swimmers are found in the warm coastal waters and rivers of the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean Sea, and the Amazon Basin.

The significance of manatees extends beyond their physical attributes. They play a pivotal role in their habitats by feeding on a large amount of seagrass. This consumption is not an act of gluttony but an ecological service that keeps the growth of seagrasses in check. By doing so, manatees help maintain the health and stability of the ecosystem. Seagrasses are vital for the marine environment as they provide breeding grounds for many fish species, absorb carbon dioxide, and help stabilize the ocean floor. Without the grazing activities of manatees, the unchecked growth of seagrass could lead to detrimental effects on the marine ecosystem.

Despite their size and the lack of natural predators, manatees are classified as endangered. The primary threat to their survival comes not from the natural world but from human activities. Human development encroaching on their natural habitats, pollution, boat strikes, and entanglement in fishing gear are among the leading causes of manatee mortality. The loss of their natural habitat due to coastal development and pollution has significantly reduced the areas where manatees can live and feed.

The comparison to their extinct relatives, the Steller’s sea cows, serves as a stark reminder of the fragility of existence for these gentle giants. The Steller’s sea cow, once an inhabitant of the northern waters, was driven to extinction in the 18th century due to overhunting by humans. This historical precedent underscores the urgent need for conservation efforts to protect manatees from a similar fate.