Gentle Giants or Hidden Hazards? Examining Whether Manatees Are Dangerous


Dec. 6 2023, Published 3:20 p.m. ET

A manatee in the water.
Source: Getty Images

The Gist:

  • Manatees aren’t dangerous.
  • Manatees are gentle giants that don’t attack people.
  • Humans are the biggest threat to manatees.
Article continues below advertisement

Manatees are often called “sea cows” because they are large marine mammals that primarily feed on seagrass in the waterways where they live. Humans pose the biggest threat to manatees, but are manatees a threat to humans?

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering reclassifying manatees as endangered after their population has dwindled since 2017, Axios reported.

So, are manatees dangerous? Keep reading for everything you should know about these gentle giants, including why

Article continues below advertisement
A manatee munching on sea grass.
Source: Getty Images

Are manatees dangerous to humans?

No, manatees aren’t dangerous. In fact, these gentle giants could probably win the title of the least aggressive animals on the planet. They may be intimidating because of their large size, but they are typically more interested in feeding on seagrass than attacking anyone.

Article continues below advertisement

Manatees can’t even bite you even if they want to. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FFWCC), manatees don't have "biting" teeth, but instead teeth more suited for their plant-based diets. Also, the teeth they do have are constantly falling out. In fact, the reason for this, per the FFWCC, is because sand from the sea grass they eat wears down their teeth!

Manatee swimming in the water.
Source: iStock
Article continues below advertisement

Has a manatee ever killed a human?

There are no records indicating a manatee ever attacked a human, let alone killed someone, per A-Z Animals. At worst, they may accidentally knock someone off their paddle board, but once the person is in the water, the manatee is more likely to curiously check them out rather than attack them.

The manatee is no longer endangered, but the species' greatest threat is still humans.

Manatees were added to the endangered species list in 1973. But, in 2017, their status was downgraded from “endangered” to “threatened,” much to the disappointment of environmental activists.

Manatees don’t have any natural predators, per American Oceans. The biggest threat to manatees is humans. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, almost 2,000 manatees in Florida died in 2021 and 2022 due to human-related factors.

Article continues below advertisement

The majority of manatee deaths, about 20 percent, were due to collisions with boats and their propellers. The Center estimates that 100 Florida manatees are killed in boat strikes every year. Climate change and “pollution-fueled algae blooms” are other human-related factors threatening manatees and their habitats, per the Center for Biological Diversity.

A woman swimming with a manatee in Crystal River, Fla.
Source: Getty Images
Article continues below advertisement

The move by the Fish and Wildlife Service officials to look into reclassifying the manatee as “endangered” came in response to a petition filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, the Save the Manatee Club, and several other conservation organizations.

“This is the right call for manatees and everyone who cares about these charming creatures,” said Ragan Whitlock, a Florida-based attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, in a press release. “I applaud the Fish and Wildlife Service for taking the next step toward increased safeguards. Manatees need every ounce of protection they can get.”

More from Green Matters

Latest Kindness to Animals News and Updates

    Opt-out of personalized ads

    © Copyright 2024 Green Matters. Green Matters is a registered trademark. All Rights Reserved. People may receive compensation for some links to products and services on this website. Offers may be subject to change without notice.