Right Now     Every week I come up with ideas inspired by friends, manatees and the world around me, and I draw them out with pen and colored pencil.  I scan them in and set each week’s comic to publish on Monday, and that’s how it gets to your screen.

The Beginning     The first comic is inspired by a video of a manatee nibbling a diver’s hand, the first video I had ever seen of a manatee (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GzGSAs3dcTI).  The name “Man versus Manatee” was a name that I gave to that single illustration, which became the title of a series of comics as I came up with more and more ideas.

At first, I showed the comics only to my family and closest friends, because I did not yet have a way to share them more efficiently.  I hand-drew each illustration (and still do) with colored pencils and fine-tip pens, uploading them as image files with whatever scanner was available.

When I posted the first few comics on Facebook, my friends immediately encouraged me to make more, but also encouraged me to find a way to share them more efficiently.  This is when a friend, Erty Seidohl, offered to host my comic in his domain.  A combination of his generosity and his own experience with the production of webcomics (http://ertyseidel.com/comics/) got the site on its feet in no time at all.  Having little experience with the Internet in general, I am certain that “Man versus Manatee” would not exist today without his help.

The Purpose     Each comic takes two or more hours to plan and create, giving me plenty of time to ask myself why I am producing a weekly, manatee-themed webcomic.  I recognize that a great number of people who work with the manatee would cite the species’s dire state of near-extinction when asked why they do what they do, but my answer focuses much more heavily on promotion of the mammal, and spotlighting its lovable personality.

Living in southeastern Wisconsin, I have never had the chance to see a manatee in person.  My only connection with the sirenians is through pictures, videos, books, and other media.  When I see a manatee, I don’t see a suffering animal, but an adorable, round, gluttonous, water-dwelling creature.  When I research the manatee, I am overwhelmed by the amount of unfortunate news surrounding it – constant talk of boat collisions, threats to their environment, and the careless actions of humans.  This perspective is certainly important to the manatee’s conservation, but where are the positive vibes appropriate for such a sweet animal?  What can I do to inspire people to relate to the manatee, to love it and see what I see with every encounter?  So I find my comic has a purpose, to focus on the manatee’s relatability, humanity, and its infinite ability to make people smile.

With my comic’s purpose in mind, I have created a small set of rules for myself, to keep my comics positive and focused:

1.  Avoid comics that could just as well be told using humans (there must always be a manatee or aquatic element)

2.  Avoid portraying humans (this comic belongs to the manatee)

3.  No propeller jokes (I made a joke about a propeller joke once, and that was plenty for starting a discourse or getting readers curious)

4.  Continue to hand-draw the comic, even as most other webcomics are produced digitally

About the Manatee
(and other creatures)

This page may expand as I compile more information on the manatee and other creatures that appear in my comic.

Aquatic Mammals of the Order Sirenia (Sirenians), Including the Now Extinct Steller’s Sea Cow

The Order Sirenia and Its Current State

Steller’s sea cow, Hydrodamalis gigas, is extinct.  Humankind managed to wipe out the relict population of possibly 2,000 of these giants in just under 30 years in the late 1700s; twentieth-century technology must be far more efficient.  Numbers of dugongs (Dugong dugon) throughout their Indo-Pacific marine range are not endangered in the current sense of the word, but they have diminished in many areas and today are absent in others where once they were known, even abundant.  Trichechus inunguis, the Amazonian manatee, has been referred to as the most endangered Sirenian owing to its remote habitat and to relentless human pressures upon the population.  The West African manatee, T. senegalensis, is diminishing in numbers, but so little is known about them that definitive statements are impossible at this time.  The West Indian manatee, T. manatus, recently has been the subject of intense scrutiny; it should be, with only an estimated 14,000 remaining in its total range.  Of these, 1,800 or less of the Florida manatee subspecies (T.m. latirostris) survive within U.S. waters, and those only in coastal waters from Texas through Florida.  Without doubt the sea cow is the most endangered of aquatic mammals.

Political and technical conservation efforts currently range from legislation and sanctuaries to propeller guards and flood-control-gate protective equipment.  But no measures will accomplish more than will public awareness of the plight of the manatee.  Destroying or saving 60 million years of evolution is in our hands.

-Quoted from the epilogue of Introducing the Manatee, a book by Warren Zeiller, 1992

Example Blueprint of a Propeller Guard

Classification and Ranges of Recent Sirenians

Phylum:  Chordata

Class:  Mammalia

Superorder:  Paenungulata

Order:  Sirenia


Dugongidae–Arctic Sea Cows and Dugongs

Hydrodamalis gigas–Steller’s Sea Cow (Marine; Bering Sea)

Dugong dugon–Dugong (Marine; Red Sea, Bay of Bengal, Malay Archipelago, Molucas to Phillippines, southward to New Guinea and northern Australia)


Trichechus inunguis–Amazonian manatee (Freshwater; Orinoco and Amaon river drainages of northern South America)

Trichechus senegalensis–West African manatee (Euryhaline; coastal and river drainages from Senegal River south to Cuanaga River, including Lade Chad drainage)

Trichechus manatus–West Indian manatee

Trichechus manatus latirostris–Florida manatee (Euryhaline; Jacksonville, south around peninsular Florida, Florida Keys, west through Texas)

Trichechus manatus manatus–Antillean manatee (Euryhaline; coastal Central and South America to Brazil, West Indies, Puerto Rico)

-Information derived from Introducing the Manatee, Zeillor, 1992

Locations Where the Manatee Can Be Found

Anatomy of a Manatee

Anatomy of the West Indian Manatee. Click to View in Full.

How to Identify a Manatee’s Sex: Female on Left, Male on Right.

Some Helpful Visual Comparisons

Left: Sea Lion, Right: Seal

Top: Porpoise, Bottom: Dolphin

Top: Beluga, Bottom: Narwhal

1, 2, 3: Squid, 4, 5: Octopuses

Left: Cuttlefish, Right: Squid

A Threat of Invisibility     One of the manatee’s closest relatives is the elephant; we would be heartbroken if we were responsible for bringing about the elephant’s extinction, but the manatee seems invisible in comparison.  Unlike the elephant, the manatee cannot be found in a box of animal crackers or in a toddler’s animal vocabulary.  So I find it is my responsibility as the artist and creator of “Man versus Manatee” to increase the visibility and relatability of the sirenians.

Sharing     Please enjoy and share my webcomic (and with it, the manatee), because that is all that I ask of you.  When you share my comic, it is less important that you include my name, and more important that you include the name of the comic and its address (http://manvsmanatee.com).  Every time you share “Man versus Manatee,” I’m sure the manatee is just as thankful as I am.  Thank you for reading!

Rachel Jo Arnow