9 Manatee Facts That Might Surprise You When You Swim with Them

Manatees are fascinating, gentle creatures. And while most people know what a manatee looks like, they probably assume that they’re just another version of a seal or a walrus. In fact, manatees are a much different creature with their own set of unique and amazing attributes.

Thinking about going for a swim with these “cows of the sea”? You really should. And to help convince you, here are nine manatee facts that’ll give you some insight while swimming with the majestic creatures.

1. The Real Mermaids

Manatees might not be beautiful in the same way mermaids are meant to be, but they’re beautiful in their own special way. Christopher Columbus would agree.

When Christopher Columbus was making his first journey to the Americas he reportedly spotted three mermaids at sea! It is now widely believed that what Columbus actually saw was three manatees. From far away their faces can look strangely human, and combine that with their tails, well, you can definitely see where Columbus got the idea from.

2.The Elephant Connection

It may seem weird since the creatures never leave the water, but manatees are actually more closely related to elephants than fish. They’re part of the Sirenia family of animals, which also includes aardvarks, believe it or not. Evolution really does do crazy things from time-to-time.

Manatees even have similar teeth to elephants. Elephants constantly lose and regrow their teeth throughout their lifetime, and so do manatees! Their teeth tend to wear down pretty quickly from all the seagrass, making regular replacement necessary.

Definitely not envious of that.

3. Breathing Easy

Although manatees can hold their breath underwater for up to twenty minutes, they tend to come up every three-to-five minutes for air. Manatees only tend to stay under for longer periods of time during rest.

With a single breath, a manatee can replace 90% of the oxygen in their bodies, as opposed to humans, who replace about 10% of the oxygen in their body with a single breath. Not only is this incredibly efficient, but absolutely necessary for a creature that spends its entire life in the water.

4. No Neck, No Problem

Manatees are unable to turn their heads like other mammals can. They lack the usual number of neck vertebrae that most animals have, so when they want to look another way they have to turn their entire bodies around. Pretty much the polar opposite of an owl.

Almost every other mammal has seven vertebrae in their neck, but manatees are the exception to this along with sloths, who have anywhere between five to nine depending on the type. This is probably because Manatees simply don’t need to turn their heads much, as they find the majority of their food on the ocean floor.

5. How Long Do Manatees Live?

Manatees can live a pretty long time, with an estimated lifespan of up to 60 years. This is because the manatee has no natural predators, meaning their death is usually due to natural causes like red tide or human error.

One natural issue that manatees face is pneumonia from getting too cold. This may seem surprising as the creatures look pretty, well, fat for the most part.

However, their bulkiness isn’t due to fat; it’s just to keep the massive amount of stomach they have inside of them. When it gets cold, manatees will migrate to warmer waters to avoid pneumonia and other cold-related sicknesses.

6. Smoothest Brain Around

One of the stranger things about the manatee are their smooth brains. Rather than the wrinkly brain we see in ourselves and other animals, manatees’ are almost completely smooth. Their brains are also the smallest of all mammals in relation to body size.

This doesn’t mean they’re stupid, though. In fact, they’ve been found to be just as good at experimental tasks as dolphins, widely regarded as one of the smartest animals there is! It just goes to show that you shouldn’t judge an animal by its brain size.

7. They Could Use Some Glasses

Manatees don’t have the best eyesight around. Not only are they nearsighted, but they can only see a limited number of colors such as green, gray, and blue! That probably isn’t a huge deal in the water, where most things are those colors, but it’s a pretty neat fact.

To help them navigate, manatees instead use vibrissae, the thick whiskers that you see on their faces and bodies. They have over 5,000 of these total, putting any cat to shame.

8. Slow… Sometimes

Manatees are usually pretty slow creatures, traveling at an average of five miles per hour. However, when they need to they can get up to 15 miles per hour! That’s pretty fast for such a bulky animal.

Much like sloths, manatees are known to be such slow creatures that moss tends to grow on their bodies. So don’t worry about them swimming away too fast when you’re swimming with them. They probably won’t.

9. What Do Manatees Eat?

Manatees are vegetarians, and they’re big fans of eating. A manatee tends to eat 10 to 15 percent of its body weight per day in plants. A large portion of their insides is a digestive tract, and stretch up to 150 feet long!

Manatees eat over 60 different types of plants found throughout the sea, but mostly enjoy seagrass.

Want More Manatee Facts?

There’s a lot to love about manatees. They’re some of the gentlest, most interesting sea creatures out there, and swimming with them is among the most unique experiences out there. If you get the chance you won’t regret it, and you certainly won’t regret knowing more manatee facts before stepping into their domain.

You can find out more about swimming with manatees on our site. Feel free to contact us with any questions, concerns, or suggestions.