West Indian manatees are capable of withstanding large changes in salinity and move freely between freshwater and marine habitats. They can be found in shallow rivers, canals, saltwater bays, estuaries and coastal areas. Because of their extremely low metabolic rate and absence of a thick layer of insulating body fat, they are restricted to tropical and subtropical waters.
This species may inhabit clear or muddy waters. Because of their large size, manatees prefer water reaching at least 1 to 2 meters in depth. These animals are most commonly found travelling in waters 3 to 5 meters deep and waters over 6 meters are generally avoided.
If the water is deep enough and the currents are not too strong (under 5 kilometers per hour), manatees are capable of travelling large distances upstream on inland rivers. In St. John's river, manatees live up to 200 km away from the ocean. Manatees found in the Gulf of Mexico are rarely more than a kilometer from the mouth of a river.
(FPL 1989, Rathbun 1990)
Aquatic Biomes: rivers and streams; coastal