Aerial and interview surveys were conducted in 1986 to determine the current distribution, status, and traditional significance of the West Indian manatee Trichechus manatus in Venezuela. Aerial surveys provided just eight tentative sightings in 73 hours of searching. These discouraging results may have been due to poor visibility, small populations, and perhaps reduced dry season manatee activity. Results of interview surveys, however, permitted a number of important generalizations. A remnant manatee population exists in Lake Maracaibo, but none occur along the more than 1500 km of Caribbean coastline. Abundance is greatest in eastern Venezuela bordering the Golfo de Paria, in the Orinoco Delta, and in the middle Orinoco and tributaries. Local market hunting in the middle of this century probably greatly reduced manatee populations in these areas. Recent protection laws, education efforts, and manatee scarcity have resulted in a declining interest in manatee hunting. Much excellent manatee habitat persists in these regions, and a continued decline in hunting could result in an optimistic outlook for future manatee populations if the incidental take in net fisheries is controlled. Traditional beliefs and legends concerning manatees in Venezuela, including hunting taboos, show that these animals remain a colorful part of the folk culture. However, manatee protection does not pose economic hardships or infringe upon traditional spiritual beliefs.