Found from Florida to Guyana, the West Indian manatee includes two subspecies.The Florida manatee (Trichecus manatus latirostris) is native to the southeastern United States, while the Antillean manatee (Trichecus manatus manatus) ranges through the Greater Antilles, the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Coast of Central and South America.
The manatee is unusual in that it moves freely between saltwater and freshwater, preferring rivers and calm estuaries with plentiful underwater vegetation on which to feed with its prehensile lips. It typically forages at night by touch and smell and rests on the seafloor much of the day, rising periodically to breathe. In saline environments, manatees frequently search out freshwater springs, presumably to drink.
The manatee is large, weighing as much as 3,000 pounds, some stretching over 13 feet. They are social, usually living in family groups, which sometimes gather in larger herds. Gestation is about one year. This low rate of reproduction complicates preservation efforts. Protected under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 in the United States, they enjoy some form of protection along their entire range. However, the species remains endangered, primarily threatened by coastal development and collisions with watercraft, though they are also illegally hunted, entangled in nets and crushed or drowned in locks.May 07, 2012