Types of Manatees

Learn About Manatee Species

Manatees have an unmistakable appearance, with their whiskered face, stout bodies, and paddle-like tail. Did you know there are several different kinds of manatees? Learn more about each below.
Manatee at Surface / Steven Trainoff Ph.D. / Moment / Getty Images
Manatee near the water surface. Steven Trainoff Ph.D. / Moment / Getty Images

The West Indian manatee is characterized by its greyish or brownish skin, rounded tail, and a set of nails on its forelimbs. West Indian manatees are the largest sirenian, growing to 13 feet and 3,300 pounds. The West Indian manatee is found along the southeastern United States, in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, and Central and South America. There are two subspecies of the West Indian manatee:

  • Florida manatee (Trichechus manatus latirostris) - found off the coasts of the southeastern U.S. and along the Gulf of Mexico.
  • Antillean manatee (Trichechus manatus manatus) - found in the Caribbean and along the coast of Central America.

The West Indian manatee is listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. More »

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West African Manatee (Trichechus senegalensis)

The West African manatee is found off the coast of western Africa. It is similar in size and appearance to the West Indian manatee, but has a blunter snout. The West African manatee is found in coastal areas in both saltwater and freshwater. The IUCN Red List lists the West African manatee as vulnerable. Threats include hunting, entanglement in fishing gear, entrapment in turbines and generators of hydro-electric plants and loss of habitat from damming of rivers, cutting mangroves and destroying wetlands.

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Amazonian Manatee (Trichechus inunguis)

The Amazonian manatee is the smallest member of the manatee family. It grows to about 9 feet long and can weigh up to 1,100 pounds. This species has smooth skin. Its scientific species name, inunguis means "no nails," referring to the fact that this is the only manatee species that does not have nails on its forelimbs.

The Amazonian manatee is a freshwater species, preferring the South American waters of the Amazon River Basin and its tributaries. It appears that West Indian manatees may visit this manatee in its fresh water habitat, though. According to Sirenian International, Amazonian-West Indian manatee hybrids have been found near the mouth of the Amazon River.