Manatees are intelligent, brilliant creatures which, due to unfortunate fishing and hunting practices, have become an endangered species. Thankfully, however, they are now protected from such threats, and when you visit Cancun you may just get the chance to see them! There are specialized tours which take tourists out to see manatees in their natural habitat. Here are some of the basic facts about these wonderful aquatic mammals.
The Life of a Manatee
Manatees generally like to live in shallow and marshy coastal areas and their adjacent rivers (areas like the Gulf of Mexico, and Caribbean Sea). In fact, they are one of the few marine animals which can spend time in both freshwater and saltwater, although they rely on fresh water for drinking. This is why they can often be found in the lagoons around the Sian Ka’an Biosphere, which is about an hour and a half (by car) from Cancun.
Manatees are the largest vegetarian animals in the sea, and can reach 60 years of age; they have no natural enemies, so to speak, due to their good nature and size. This has been both a blessing and a curse as they have not developed any defence mechanisms as a result. Manatee are intelligent, social creatures which communicate through high pitched sounds, and spend around half of their lives sleeping (while the other half is spent grazing for food in shallow waters).
Manatee numbers are not as strong as they once were, but you can still see them in their natural habitat either by chance, or through specialized tours that you can organize from Cancun. These tours are great because they are led by locals who have a great deal of knowledge and experience when it comes to these gentle giants. They will ensure that you approach to observe from a distance, and that the tour does not disrupt their usual activities. Boca Paila lagoon and the area which surrounds it is a manatee hotspot; they can be seen surfacing for air here. Witnessing them in the minutiae of their daily lives is surprisingly magical, but, if you want a more controlled experience, you could go to Xcaret or Xel-Ha.
Dangers They Face
Manatees need all the help they can get from humans as our activities are still the greatest direct and indirect threats to manatee populations because they are naturally slow and curious. Manatees are often struck by the propellers of motor boats or hit by jet-skis, and they are susceptible to natural dangers like red tide poisoning, hurricanes, and cold stress. This is why tours like those found in Cancun are important; the more people that are educated about manatees, the more people there will be in their corner. When you interact with manatees please do not touch, poke, feed, chase, surround, or attempt to ride them as this will cause distress. Mothers and calves must stay together to ensure the calves survival, so be even more cautious when approaching nursing females.