West Indian Manatee
These wrinkled, whiskered creatures often coast in shallow waters such as estuaries, bays, canals, and coastal areas. The West Indian manatee is native to Cuba, Puerto Rico, Hispaniola, and Jamaica, and the Antillean subspecies enjoy the warm waters of the Caribbean due to their lack of insulating body fat and low metabolism. While they have large bodies reminiscent of seals, they are very agile in the water. If you are lucky enough to get close to these creatures, you can hear them communicating with each other through squeaks and squeals, particularly a mother and her calf. You might even be able to spot some algae or barnacles that tend to coat their skin.
Historically, manatees were often hunted but they are now a protected species under the Marine Mammal Protection act. Though they are no longer hunted, manatees are still susceptible to collisions with boats as well as fishing gear. Red tied blooms and pollution, which influenced their diet of seagrass, also poses problems toward their continued conservation.
Sailors once mistook these barnacled beauties for mermaids. In fact, their scientific name, Sirenia, derives from the word “siren,” a Greek mythological sea creature whose songs enticed sailors to their doom.