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Manatees

( Originally Published 1936 )

THIS is a small order of fish-like mammals, differing considerably from both whales and seals, although supposed by some authorities to be allied to them. There are but two existing species, the Manatees and the Dugongs, the Sea Cow, a much larger animal than either of these having been exterminated on Bering's Island towards the end of the eighteenth century. The body is long and rounded, and the tail is either divided like that of a whale or is broad and rounded at the end. The forward limbs only are present and developed into the form of paddles, or flippers. The hide is thick, the nostrils are placed at the extremity of the muzzle, and there are bristles and long hair about the mouth. These animals frequent sea-shores, estuaries, and large rivers, and feed on water-plants or seaweed.

Manatee (Manatus australis)

This species is found in the shallow seas and large rivers of the Gulf of Mexico and the East of South America, and is not unlike the seal, except for the heavy rounded tail, though it is never known to go upon shore. It browses at the bottom or along the edges of the rivers and streams in which it lives, and seldom goes out to sea, preferring brackish waters to the ocean. The colour is dark brown or grey, the skin is heavily wrinkled over the entire surface of the body, and is sparsely covered with stiff bristly hairs. The head is singular in form, particularly the muzzle and jaws. The upper lip is long and hangs down on either side of the lower jaw, which works between the flaps. These are almost prehensile in character, projecting forward, and with them the animal seizes the food, drawing it into the mouth. The nostrils are small and placed at the extreme tip of the muzzle, the eyes are almost invisible, and the ears are wanting externally. See Plate 37, Fig. 155. The fore-limbs are used in balancing while swimming slowly about, but when alarmed or in a hurry progression is made by an upward and downward beat of the heavy tail.

Another very similar species, Manatus senegalensis, is found in the waters off the coast of Africa.

Dugong (Halicore dugong)

A similar animal to the manatee, but more marine in its habits, the Dugong is found on the shores of the Indian Ocean. Very similar species are met with in the Red Sea, and as far eastward as Australia, where they feed exclusively on seaweed. The tail is a some-what crescent-shaped flapper, not so broad nor so heavily made as that of the manatee. See Plate 37, Fig. 154.



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