Do Manatees Have Barnacles?

Manatees can be found with barnacles if they are in a salt water environment. Above, two manatees visit Tampa Electric Company's Manatee Viewing Center in Tampa Bay. (Photo courtesy Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission)

Q. Is it common for manatees to have barnacles?
--Olivia Jones

A. Like many marine mammals, it is possible for manatees to have barnacles attached to their backs. However, this is only possible if the manatee is in a salt water environment. Barnacles do not attach to manatees in fresh water and will eventually fall off once a manatee has ventured from salt to fresh water. Since manatees can be found in fresh, brackish, and salt waters, barnacles are continuously attaching and falling off a manatee’s back. A manatee’s skin is also relatively tough, making it more difficult for the barnacle to penetrate the skin to attach.

Manatees can be found with algae growing on their backs in both salt and fresh waters. (Photo © David Schrichte.)

In addition to barnacles, manatees can often be found with algae growing on their backs. Algae (and barnacles) will grow on a manatee’s back because manatees are such slow-moving animals. Unlike barnacles, algae can grow in salt and fresh waters, depending on the species. Therefore you are much more likely to see a manatee with algae on its back than with barnacles.

--Courtney Edwards
Staff Biologist, Save the Manatee Club

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