Manatees Around The World

An endangered West African manatee is rescued after it became trapped behind a dam on the Nawel River in Senegal. (Photo by Tomas Diagne)

Q. What does the word “manatee” mean, and what are manatees called in various countries around the world?

It is believed that the word manatee comes from the Carib word “manati,” meaning “(woman’s) breast.” Carib is a language indigenous to South America and is spoken in Venezuela, Brazil, French Guiana, Guyana, and Suriname. Manatees are known by a variety of names in other languages as well. In Spanish, which is spoken by several Central and South American counties where the West Indian manatee is found, manatees are known as “manatí.” Portuguese is the official language in Brazil, where manatees, or “peixe-boi,” can be found in the Amazon River or along the coast. Crossing over the Atlantic Ocean, the West African manatee is commonly known as “mamiwata.” This is in reference to a female water-spirit found in some African cultures, particularly in the western coastal regions and central Africa. French is also spoken in many countries in West Africa, including Senegal where Save the Manatee has made several donations to help rescue and perform research on the endangered West African manatee, known as “lamantin” in French.

--Courtney Edwards
Staff Biologist, Save the Manatee Club

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