Of all marine mammals found in the waters of the Amazon river, the Amazonian manatee is the largest of all. Their habitat is widespread throughout the Amazon river basin in northern South America, from Marajó island (at the mouth of the Amazon river) to the sources of the Amazon basin rivers in Guiana, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.
Manatees have been called many names: sea cows (due to the fact that they are herbivorous and spend most of the day grazing on aquatic and semi-aquatic plants, like cows spend their days grazing on grass), sirenians and even mermaids (the mythically beautiful half woman, half fish creatures).
As for its name, it's believed to come from the Taíno, meaning "breast".
The Taíno is now an extinct Arawakan language dating back to pre-Columbian time. It was the first language Spaniards had contact with in the early days of the conquistadores.
Known in Brazil as peixe-boi, it's one of the four living species of the order of the sirenians and the smallest in the Trichechidae family.
It has smother skin and generally a white or pink belly patch.
It also has no toenails on its flippers. In fact, its very scientific name: Iningus means exactly that: "no nails".
The list of the Trichechidae include...
Dugong is the only strictly-marine herbivorous mammal, as the other three members of the sirenians dwell in fresh waters.
This gentle, slow-moving creature is entirely aquatic and never leaves the water.
An adult manatee can reach up to three meters long and 450 kg in weight, with a lifespan still unknown, but species in captivity have survived over twelve years.
It can consume 10-15% of its body weight in vegetation daily.
Most feeding occurs during the wet season and would last throughout the dry season, when it would go without food for weeks or month helped by it fat reserve and slow metabolism rate, considered to be one third of the usual rate for a mammal of its size
For centuries, the Amazonian manatee its' been an important source of food to the indigenous people of the rainforest - and adult can yeld up to 200 kg of meat.
Its bones, fat and skin are also used for different purposes.
Today, it's among the most endangered marine mammals in South America, classified as Vulnerable (VU A1cd) on the 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Illegal hunting is considered to be the main threat to the survival of this specie both for subsistence and commercial hunters - the use of harpoons is the most widespread technique for hunting.
In dry season, when water recedes, they become stranded in lakes, an easy prey for hunters.
Other threats include incidental capture in commercial (gill) nets, degradation of food supplies by soil erosion due to deforestation and other environmental impacts such as drought.
It's prohibited to hunt the Amazonian manatee since 1972.