Today, manatees can be found in the United States. They are primarily found in Florida, along the coasts and in some rivers. They prefer warm water, which is why they are primarily found in Florida, but they can stray outside their normal range, travelling a little bit up the Atlantic coast and west along the Gulf coast. On occasion, an individual can be found along the coast of Texas.
There are actually a handful of manatee species, ranging from North America, to South America, to Africa. The species in the United States is Trichechus manatus, the West Indian manatee. Manatees belong to the order Sirenia, which also includes the dugong, which is found on the east coast of Africa to southeast Asia and Australia. Unlike many other marine creatures, which are carnivores or piscivores (“piscivore” mean fish-eater), the manatees and dugongs are herbivores, typically grazing on seagrass (which is an actual plant, by the way, and not an algae).
As interesting as manatees and dugongs are, I want to focus on a recent report of manatee fossils found in Texas.i As mentioned previously, they stray into Texas waters every once in a while, but they do not winter there, since the waters get too cold. However, fossils of manatess, belonging to the species Trichechus manatus, have been found in Texas along the Gulf of Mexico. They were actually found on the beaches, but it is believed that they were originally washed up from Pleistocene deposits just off shore.
Unfortunately, these manatee fossils are sparse: a jaw bone here, a rib fragment there, a vertebrae there, and so on. However, there presence does raise the question of why they were found in Texas. See, Pleistocene deposits are believed to be from the Ice Age (even creationists are in pretty good agreement that Pleistocene deposits were laid down during the Ice Age, more on that later). Yet, it is typically thought that Ice Age waters were cooler than they are today. Do these manatee fossils represent populations living in Texas, or do they represent stray individuals that traveled away from their normal home? Does the presence of these fossils indicate that the waters along the Texas coast were warmer than thought during the Ice Age, or does it indicate that manatees were more cold tolerant than they are today? The article does not answer these questions: the authors state that there is not information information yet to answers these questions.
However, I think I can provide an adequate explanation for these manatee fossils using a creationist model. As mentioned a moment ago, most creationists accept that there was an Ice Age and that it likely responsible for all of the most recent fossils. Think of things like the woolly mammoth, saber-tooth cat, giant ground sloth. The fossils of these creatures, found in Pleistocene rocks, are though to be from a post-Flood Ice Age.
Now, it is interesting that the Flood actually provides a mechanism for initiating an Ice Age. The “fountains of the great deep,” mentioned in Genesis 7:11 are thought to indicate a massive amount of undersea volcanism or the breaking open of oceanic rifts. Either way, a massive amount of molten rock would have contacted the ocean. On a large enough scale, this would have warmed up the oceans as well as contributed a lot of ash to the atmosphere. These two factors, a warm ocean and atmospheric ash, would have begun an ice age. The warm oceans would have increased evaporation, ultimately causing more precipitation on land. The ash would have cooled the earth, principally cooling the land. Thus, when the precipitation fell as snow, the ash cover would have “protected” the snow, preventing it from melting. As more snow is added, year after year in large quantities thanks to the increased evaporation, the snow would rapidly build up until large portions of the continents, especially the higher latitudes, would be covered with snow and ice.
Note that for this scenario to work, the oceans would have to be warmer than they are today. Creationists should thus expect warm-water creatures, like manatees, to have a wider range than they do today. Thus, manatee fossils in Pleistocene sediments in Texas is no surprise to us: it actually fits very nicely with an Ice Age caused by a global Flood.
Thoughts from Steven
P. S. If you would like to know more about the Ice Age from a creationist perspective, I would recommend a couple of books by Michael Oard. The first is Frozen in Time: The Woolly Mammoth, The Ice Age, And The Bible, published by Master Books. This is a short book, written for the general public, and it present the Ice Age and how it formed in simple terms. The other book is An Ice Age Caused by the Genesis Flood, published by the Institute for Creation Research. This is a technical volume, that goes into details of the Ice Age and the mechanisms that formed it.
iChristopher Bell, William Godwin, Kelsey Jenkins, and Patrick Lewis (2020) “First fossil manatees in Texas, USA: Trichechus manatus bakerorum from Pleistocene beach deposits along the Gulf of Mexico” Palaeontologia Electronica 23(3):a47