Manatees are, if not a common sight, at least a familiar one off coasts of the United States and Central America. These slow, peaceful herbivores have been called everything from sea cows to sirens, after their tendency to be mistaken for mermaids by sailors.
Trichechus manutus, the West Indian Manatee, and the species found in Belize, is the largest of all manatee species – usually weighing between 800 and 12,000 lbs – and has two subspecies, the Florida Manatee and the Antillean Manatee. Unlike the Amazonian Manatee, which exists only in the fresh waters of South America’s rivers, West Indian Manatees can live in fresh, salty, and brackish waters alike, and in fact often transition between the two as they move between coastal rivers and the sea. Manatees in Belize belong to the Antillean subset of the West Indian species, whose range covers the Central American and Northern South American coasts.
Manatees in Belize
While like all manatees the Antillean manatees of Belize have no natural predators, they are nevertheless a threatened species due to human activity. Historically, manatees have suffered from overhunting for their hides and bones, a practice that, while illegal, still continues in many Central and South American countries. This, together with deaths caused by collisions with motorboats and entanglement in fishing nets, have reduced the populations of the West Indian Manatee to the point that it has become listed as vulnerable to extinction under the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources’ (IUCN) red list. Belize, by nature of its as-yet limited human impact of its coastal shores, has so far remained a relatively safe haven for Manatees, though this may change as increased development encroaches on the Manatee’s natural habitat.
For all of the threats to their survival, Belize remains a sanctuary for Manatees, with between 800 and 1,000 members of the species found along its 240-mile coastline. Wildlife conservation has also become a major focus in Belize, with several organizations seeking to combine eco-tourism and the ability to swim with and witness manatees in their natural habitat with traditional preservation and rehabilitation programs. While manatees still remain vulnerable as a species, but for those wishing to see and learn about these unique and peaceful marine mammals, Belize is becoming one of the best places in the world to do so.
Manatee tours on the Monkey River in Southern Belize are available from the Jaguar Reef Lodge, Almond Beach Resort & Villa Margarita. For more information on this tour, please visit: Monkey River Tour
For More Information on the science of manatees in Belize, Visit
Michael Windelspecht, PhD. Michael is a science author and educator for Ricochet Creative Productions, and the editor for Ricochet Science, a free online science resource site. He has organized student trips to Costa Rica and is interested in the development of education resources for general science education.