Manatee Manatee
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Manatee Adaptations: The Organs

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Photo Credit: USGS/Sirenia Project


Manatees have an amazing ability to take just one single breath, and then stay under water for up to twenty minutes. What is it about a manatee's anatomy that allows it to do this?

Watch videos and learn more about the amazing lungs of Manatees:

  • Kidneys:
    As a mammal, manatees need fresh water. But how do they find it? They can find fresh water by swimming inland to freshwater rivers or canals, or places where freshwater runs from drainage sources. Sometimes, in order to obtain freshwater, manatees will siphon freshwater that is floating atop saltwater, such as rain water that has fallen.

  • Have you ever swam in a ocean and accidentally swallowed saltwater? How did it make you feel? Did you know that if you drank just a half glass of saltwater, you'd likely vomit--a good thing because it would protect your body from the life-threatening dangers of too much salt.

  • Because Manatee spend their time in both fresh and saltwater habitat, manatees certainly do take in saltwater, such as when they are eating the saltwater plants. So how do the manatees handle the salt water that they take in?

    The answer is in their kidneys. Manatees kidneys are able to filter blood to control levels of salt and to maintain water balance. According to Cathy Beck of the Sirenia Project, the anatomy of the manatee kidney and how it has evolved to accommodate this switch between saline and fresh water environments has been studied, most notably by Dr. Noble Maluf, an anatomist in Cleveland, Ohio. He found the kidney of the manatee is fundamentally different from that of the dugong, a strictly marine (saltwater)sirenian. When in salt water, the manatee kidney has an astounding ability to concentrate the urine (i.e. retain fresh water) to at least 1,160 mosM/liter (seawater is 1,000 mosM/liter).

  • See Related Lesson: A Drink in the Ocean? No Thanks!

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