Where in the Ocean Do Manatees Live?

By John Lindell
Where in the Ocean Do Manatees Live?

The manatee is a mammal that lives in the water its entire life. There are four main species of manatees, an animal that is related to the elephant. Manatees can be found in the waters off the southern states and in South America, with another species living in Africa. Here are some facts about where manatees live and some of their migration habits.


The most common species of manatee is the West Indian manatee, an animal that can weigh over 2,000 lbs. Manatees have large bodies that end with a flat paddlelike tail. They possess two flippers, and their head and face are wrinkled, with whiskers protruding from their snouts. The West African manatee is another species of manatee, as is the Amazonian manatee, a smaller relative of the other two. All manatees are plant eaters, consuming large amounts of aquatic vegetation every day.


West Indian manatees can be located in shallow, slow-moving rivers. They also live in the ocean in places such as bays and estuaries, where rivers meet the salt water. Coastal regions with saltwater marshes can also contain manatees. The Amazonian manatee prefers mostly fresh water, inhabiting the many river systems that are associated with the Amazon River.


The range of the West Indian manatee depends on the temperature of the water. Manatees need warm water to survive, as they are not adapted to withstand the cold. The West Indian manatee will range as far north as Virginia in the summer, with an occasional bold individual advancing further north. This species also lives as far west as Texas, in the Gulf of Mexico, in the warm months. They migrate back to the south in the winter, with most of them winding up in the ocean off of Florida. The other manatee species are in warm water year-round and do not need to migrate.


The West African manatee is the least studied of manatees, and many of its habits remain a mystery. They are similar in nature to the West Indian manatees, and can be found along the coast of West Africa. They also inhabit some of the river systems in these nations, with countries such as Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria having manatee populations. Sometimes these manatees become stranded in rivers and lakes during the dry season, cut off from the ocean by a lack of passable stretches of river.

Expert Insight

Manatees have an instinct that warns them when cold weather is on the way, and they begin to look for warmer ocean and river waters. Many can be found near natural springs like Blue Springs on Florida's east coast. If the ocean gets too chilly, the manatees will make their way up these warm springs. Manatees also will gather where power plants along the coast influence the water temperature with the warmer water that comes out of these structures.

About the Author

John Lindell has written articles for "The Greyhound Review" and various other online publications. A Connecticut native, his work specializes in sports, fishing and nature. Lindell worked in greyhound racing for 25 years.