Alligators and Sharks and Manatees, Oh My!

alligator manatee

Q. Have you ever heard of an alligator attack on a manatee? If given a chance, it seems the gator would go after one of the young.
--Mel the Guide, Florida

A manatee wearing a tracking device. (Photo courtesy USGS, Sirenia Project)

A. Alligators and manatees share much of the same habitat and we have never observed a gator behaving aggressively toward a manatee. Manatees pretty much ignore alligators. We have seen a mother manatee position herself between a large gator and her small calf; but generally the only defensive move we have observed a manatee take is to simply move away. In contrast, the transmitters used for radio-tracking, bobbing along on the tether about a meter away from the manateeís body, must look like an easy meal. They are grabbed by gators, but not ingested. Once they realize itís not food they let go, but the teeth have by then often punctured the housing.

--Cathy A. Beck, Wildlife Biologist
U.S. Geological Survey, Florida Integrated Science Center, Sirenia Project

Learn more about the Sirenia Projectís manatee research work

Q. Why don't sharks eat slow-moving manatees?
--Scott Barham, Palmetto Ridge High School
Naples, Florida

Large sharks are less common in manatee habitat. (Photo © David R. Schrichte)

A. Primarily because of the manateeís large size and slow movements, they donít fit well into the prey lists for sharks. Although manatees can be found in salt water and some sharks in brackish and fresh water (where most manatees spend their time), larger sharks are less common in manatee habitat.

Exceptions could be a badly injured, or a dead manatee, or perhaps a newly born calf with blood and thrashing taking place in the presence of a large shark (this would be extremely rare).

Although it is possible that sharks may rarely take a manatee under such conditions, especially a very large shark, I have seen manatees in close proximity to many sharks with no adverse reactions between them. In fact, sharks often follow behind manatees to take fish that may be attracted or startled by the manateeís movements.

--Patrick Rose, Aquatic Biologist and Executive Director
Save the Manatee Club

Get more Manatee FAQ