Trichechus senegalensis

Link, 1795 - West African manatee

Distinctive Characteristics

West African manatees are very similar in appearance to West Indian manatees, although they are more slender. They have rounded, paddle-like tails. The head shape is similar to that of the West Indian manatee, but the snout is blunter, and the small eyes stick out more. There are stiff bristles on the lips. As in other manatees, the flippers are paddle-like; and there are nails on the upper surface. The skin is wrinkled, with a sparse covering of short hairs.

The body of West African manatees is greyish brown; and the hairs are white.

There are 5 to 7 functional teeth in each tooth row. These are replaced from the rear by newly erupting teeth. Newborn animals have 2 vestigial incisors, which are later lost.

Can be confused with

West African manatees will be easy to identify, as they are the only sirenians in their range.


Adult West African manatees reach 3 to 4 m in length and up to 750 kg in weight. Newborns are about 1 m long.

Geographical Distribution

West African manatees are found in coastal marine waters, rivers, and estuaries from southern Mauritania to northern Angola. There are also some unverified reports of manatees in Lake Chad, and nearby rivers.

Biology and Behaviour

Manatees are mostly solitary, but mothers and calves are found together and aggregations of up to 15 form for feeding and other purposes. There is little else known of their behaviour.

There is some breeding year-round, but there appears to be some seasonality related to the rains. A single calf is born, generally in shallow lagoons.

Aquatic vascular plants comprise much of the diet of West African manatees. They may also feed on mangrove leaves or plants on the banks of rivers or channels. Clams have been found in the stomachs of some animals. In Senegal, they reportedly eat small fish from fishermen's nets.


West African manatees are hunted for meat, skin, bones, and oil by local people. Other problems are damming of rivers, navigation channel development, and accidental capture in fishing gear.

IUCN Status