All three species of manatee – the Amazonian manatee, West Indian manatee, and West African manatee – and the related dugong are facing a high risk of extinction in the wild. This is due to a variety of threats including boat collisions, hunting, habitat destruction, and toxic red tides. Manatees have no natural predators in the wild but humans have played a large part in making all three species at risk of extinction.
Manatees are typically found in shallow coastal areas and rivers where they feed on sea grass, mangrove leaves, and algae.
Manatees go to the surface of the water every three to five minutes to breathe although they can remain underwater longer, holding their breath for up to 20 minutes.
The closest living relatives to manatees are elephants. Manatees evolved from the same land animals as elephants over 50 million years ago.
Christopher Columbus and other early explorers claimed to have seen female figures swimming in the ocean – the mermaids in the writings and drawings of this era. Whether they had been at sea for too long or it was a trick of the light, we now know that many of these encounters were manatees.
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