Listen to Manatee Sounds

Date: October 29, 2020

David Schrichte manatee photo
Manatees emit sounds underwater that are used in communicating with one another. These sounds can be described as chirps, whistles, or squeaks.

Can you guess how manatees communicate? Maybe they bark like a seal, whistle like a dolphin, or sing like a bird. And are they quiet or noisy animals? Thanks to researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Sirenia Project, you can discover the answers to these questions and more.

Manatees emit sounds underwater that are used in communicating with one another. These sounds can be described as chirps, whistles, or squeaks. It is not believed that they are used for navigational purposes. Vocalizations may express fear, anger, or sexual arousal. They are also used to maintain contact, especially when manatees are feeding or traveling in turbid water. Most common are vocalizations between mothers and calves.

Click the arrows below to hear the manatee sounds.

Common Manatee Sounds

Manatees communicate by using calls that have been described as squeaks, chirps, or grunts. The way the call sounds depends on the situation and the reason the manatee is communicating.

Frustrated or Annoyed Manatee

It’s true! Manatees get upset, too. Listen and see if you can tell how a manatee’s call changes when he or she is frustrated or annoyed.

Frightened Manatees

Have you ever screamed when you were startled or scared? Well, manatees do the same thing. In this segment, a group of manatees are frightened by a boater.

Calls Between a Mother and Calf

Usually, manatees are quiet animals. But moms and calves provide location information by calling back and forth. Listen to the difference in pitch between the two animals.

Nursing Calf

Just like you nag your mom for snacks, manatee calves make squeaking sounds until they are allowed to nurse from the nipples located behind their mother’s flippers.

Calf Searches for Mom

“Quit playing and get over here!” That’s what a manatee mom might mean when she calls to her calf. She may want to leave an area or she senses danger. When calves can’t find their moms, they will cry loudly until she answers. After locating their mother, they swim to her side. When Lucille, one of the manatees in our Adopt-A-Manatee program, was less than one year old, her cries were recorded when she became separated from her mom.

Mechanical Sounds

What? Are manatees mechanics? No, these are sounds that help manatees know another manatee is present. Listen to a manatee rising to breathe, the swirling of water during a sudden movement, a manatee feeding on aquatic plants, and — yes, it’s true — the sound of flatulence produced during digestion. Hmm, manatees and humans are very similar in some respects!

Special thanks to the U.S. Geological Survey, Sirenia Project for providing the manatee sounds. Visit their web sites to learn more about their work. All manatee audio files on this page can only be used with the permission of the USGS Sirenia Project.