Despite their large size, West Indian manatees are graceful swimmers. Although they usually move along in slow motion, they can also cruise, or swim at a steady pace, at five miles (eight kilometers) an hour. In short bursts they can even top 15 miles (24 kilometers) an hour!
While cruising, manatees push themselves forward by moving their strong tails up and down. They steer with the help of their flexible flippers. When in shallow water, manatees use their flippers to walk, slowly placing one in front of the other. Like whales and dolphins, manatees are mammals. Although they live in water, they have to surface frequently to breathe air. While swimming, manatees take in air every three or four minutes. When they are resting, they can stay underwater for up to 15 minutes.
Manatees are gentle animals. They rarely fight, and they have no natural enemies.
Subsisting on water plants and plants that grow at the water's edge, a manatee takes in up to 1 pound (0.5 kilogram) of food for every 10 pounds (5 kilograms) it weighs.