Manatees are large aquatic animals also known as Sea Cows.

Manatee Characteristics

Adult West Indian manatees and West African manatees average about 10 feet. (3 metres) in length. Large individuals may reach lengths of up to 13 feet. (4 metres). Average adult weights are approximately 363 – 544 kilograms (800 to 1200 pounds). Large individuals have been known to weigh up to 1588 kilograms (3500 pounds). Females are generally larger than males.


Amazonian manatees are the smallest of the three species. Amazonian manatees are shorter and more slender than the Indian manatees. The longest recorded specimen measured 9.2 feet. (2.8 metres). One particularly large specimen weighed 480 kilograms (105 pounds).

The manatee has a streamlined body – full around the middle and narrowing to a paddle-shaped tail.

Manatees are a greyish-brown colour, however, Amazonian manatees usually have white or pink patches on the belly and chest. Organisms such as algae, which may grow on the skin of these slow-moving individuals, help determine their colouration.

Manatees have two small pectoral flippers on their upper body which are used for steering. These flexible flippers may also be used for bringing food to the manatees mouth and for guiding movement along a waterways bottom.

Manatee flippers have five digits that are covered by a thick layer of skin. This bone structure is similar to that of toothed whales, seals, and sea lions. Manatees have no externally visible neck. Manatees do not have external ear flaps and the opening to the ear canal is very small. Manatees have two nostrils that lie on top of the head at the end of the snout.

Manatees have a large flexible upper lip. Their lips help guide vegetation into their mouth. Vibrissae (whiskers) are found on the surface of this lip. Each vibrissa is separately attached to the nerve endings and has its own blood supply in the follicle. Manatees have small eyes (about 0.8 inches or 2 centimetres in diameter) which are located on the sides of the head.

A manatees only teeth are 24 to 32 molars located in the back of the mouth. The front molars in each row are continually being worn down by the abrasive plants that the manatee eats. As the teeth wear down, new molars grow in the back of the mouth and move forward. The replacement process continually provides new chewing surfaces as the teeth wear down, and continues throughout the manatees life. In addition to molars, manatees have horny, ridged pads at the front of the upper and lower jaws.

A manatee swims by moving its large paddle like tail in an up-and-down motion. A manatee has sparse hair scattered over its torso.