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WHAT IS A MANATEE?
The manatee, sometimes called a sea cow, is a large water mammal. It
belongs to the same group of mammals as the dugong. There are three
species of manatees.
The Caribbean manatee lives in the Caribbean Sea and along the
northeast coast of South America. It is also found in the coastal
waters of the southeastern United States, particularly in the bays and
rivers of Florida.
The Amazon manatee lives only in fresh water. It dwells in the
Amazon and Orinoco river systems.
The African manatee lives in the rivers and coastal waters of western
All three species have been hunted for their flesh, hide and oil, and are
endangered or threatened. The manatee feeds on water plants. Its upper lip
is divided into halves, which close like pliers on the plants. A manatee can
consume more than 100 pounds of water plants in a day. In Guyana, in
South America, manatees have been used to keep waterways free of
weeds. A manatee has light to dark gray skin, with bristly hairs scattered
over its body. Its front legs are paddle shaped and its tail is rounded. It has
no hind legs. The Caribbean manatee may grow to 13 feet long and weigh
up to 3,500 pounds.