Monday, May 23, 2011


This is the most important blog posting I have ever written. It is also the longest but please read it all the way through.

Manatee are large, fully aquatic mammals that are sometime known as sea cows. The name manatee comes from the Taino, a pre columbian people of the Caribbean meaning breast. They mostly eat plants and are really docile. A mature Manatee weighs from 800 to 1200 pounds and is 8 to almost 10 feet long and up to 3 and 4 feet wide. They have a large flexible upper lip that they use to gather food and eat. It is also use in social interactions and communications. Their  small widely spaced eyes have eyelids that close in a circular manner. The adults have no incisor or canine teeth just a set of cheek teeth. Uniquely among mammals these teeth are replaced throughout their life, with new teeth growing at the rear as old teeth fall out from farther forward in the mouth. At any given time a manatee will have no more then six teeth in each jaw of it's mouth. It has a large paddle tail and overall is a really interesting  animal to see.

Half their day is spent sleeping surfacing for air at no more then twenty minute intervals. They spend most of their day grazing in shallow water of 3 to 6 feet. The Florida manatee has been known to live up to 60 years.

Manatee swim at about 3 to 5 miles per hour but have been known to swim as fast as 19 miles per hour in short spurts. 
They demonstrate complex discrimination and task learning similar to dolphins.

They typically breed once every two years. Gestation is 12 months and it takes another 12 to 18 months to wean the calf. Other then its calf manatees are generally solitary creatures.

    A younger manatee approaching an adult.

They emit a wide range of sounds used in communications especially between cows and calfs. Adults communicate to maintain contact and during sexual and play behaviors. Taste and smell as well as sight, sound and touch, may also be used in communication.
Being vegetarians they eat over 60 species of plants, an adult eating up to 10% of it's body weight per day.

They have few natural predator although sharks, alligators and crocodiles have been known to prey on manatees from time to time.
So what is the main causes of death for the manatee??  Human related issues !! Are you surprised? Destruction of their habitant and being hit by boats and ships are two such examples.
Manatees are the gentle giants of the sea, often called sea-cows.  These slow-moving herbivors are relatives of the elephant, although they look like walruses sans tusks.  In winter, they migrate to warm coastal waters around Florida and Georgia.  People come from all over to see these amazing creatures who congregate in protected areas such as Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park, and Chassahowitzga National Wildlife Refuge. 

Their slow-moving, curious nature, coupled with dense coastal development, has led to many violent collisions with propellers from fast moving recreational motor boats, leading frequently to maiming, disfigurement, and even death. As a result, a large proportion of manatees exhibit propeller scars on their backs. They are now even identified by humans based on their scar patterns. Some are concerned that the current situation is inhumane, with upwards of 50 scars and disfigurements from boat strikes on a single manatee. Often the cuts lead to infections, which can prove fatal. Internal injuries stemming from hull impacts have also been fatal.

Manatees hear on a higher frequency than what would be expected for such large marine mammals. Many large boats emit very low frequencies which confuse the manatee and explain their lack of awareness around boats. National Geographic has done experiments proving that when a boat has a higher frequency the manatees rapidly swim away from danger.
 Does it not seem like a fairly easy solution is to somehow change the frequencies or mask them? Even easier would be to institute a no wake zone, slow the recreational boats down in areas where manatee are. Much like we do in crosswalks. Boaters need to look out for these gentle giants.
Despite the documented effect of boats, fisherman say recreational boaters are only partly to blame. Stowell Robertson, executive director of the Indian River Guides Association, a group of sport-fishing guides, doesn’t believe that boats are the main source of manatee death. He told the Christian Science Monitor, "We know what kills most of the manatees in this area: the fuel barges." Fuel barges, large vessels that carry gasoline, sometimes travel through manatee habitats, disrupting manatee foraging and behavior

2010 was a really bad year for the manatee in Florida 767 manatees have been confirmed dead, thats more then 13% of the species' estimated minimum population. Most of those deaths were due to the unusually cold weather in Florida last year. Nearly 400 manatees are believed to have died from the cold. 95 deaths were from boat related accidents.
You might think that those 400 were from natural causes and they were with one caveat. Florida's springs provide natural winter habitant for the endangered manatee.The reduced spring flows caused by increased human demand for water have decreased available habitants at some of the springs, while access to other springs have been reduced or eliminated by weirs and dams. Residents and visitors to Florida have to decrease their water usage to protect resources for wildlife and themselves. 
I understand that it may seem an almost unfixable problem. But it really is not. Slow the boats down, restrict larger barges  in certain 
areas and conserve water use for all of our futures. Drinkable water in the future is a concern we share with the manatee.

We just need to care enough!!  If you are reading this long post then maybe you have already started caring. Do not stop caring!! Especially we Florida residents, we can directly influence this problem. If you see an injured manatee on one that is being harassed please call 1-888-404-3922 or use VHF channel 16 on marine radios. 
When winter comes again the public needs to report sightings of manatee outside of Florida warm waters, they cannot tolerate temperatures below 68* F for a prolong period of time. 
Contact information is available at; Members of the public should be prepared to report the number of manatees observed; the physical location of the manatees, with reference to any nearby landmarks; and a general description of the size and behavior of the manatee. Also, photos of the manatees, particularly clear photos of any scars or injuries help biologists identify individual manatees. The public should not provide food or water to manatees, as this may encourage them to linger instead of swimming home to Florida.

In 2003, a population model was released by the U.S. Geological Survey that predicted an extremely grave situation confronting the manatee in both the Southwest and Atlantic regions where the vast majority of manatees are found. It states,
"In the absence of any new management action, that is, if boat mortality rates continue to increase at the rates observed since 1992 ( They have), the situation in the Atlantic and Southwest regions is dire, with no chance of meeting recovery criteria within 100 years.
"Hurricanes, cold stress, red tide poisoning and a variety of other maladies threaten manatees, but by far their greatest danger is from watercraft strikes, which account for about a quarter of Florida manatee deaths," said study curator John Jett.
The current main threat in the United States is being struck by boats or slashed by propellers. Sometimes manatees can live through strikes, and over fifty deep slashes and permanent scars have been observed on some manatees off the Florida coast. However, the wounds are often fatal, and the lungs may even pop out through the chest cavity.
According to marine mammal veterinarians:
"The severity of mutilations for some of these individuals can be astounding - including long term survivors with completely severed tails, major tail mutilations, and multiple disfiguring dorsal lacerations. These injuries not only cause gruesome wounds, but may also impact population processes by reducing calf production (and survival) in wounded females - observations also speak to the likely pain and suffering endured"In an example, they cited one case study of a small calf "with a severe dorsal mutilation trailing a decomposing piece of dermis and muscle as it continued to accompany and nurse from its age 2 its dorsum was grossly deformed and included a large protruding rib fragment visible."

In 2009, of the 429 Florida manatees recorded dead, 97 were killed by watercraft, which broke the earlier record number of 95 set in 2002.
  Smaller manatee seemingly resting on the paddle tail of an adult.

All the manatee in Florida's Sea World have been rescued by their animal rescue team. Those who become health enough will be returned to their natural habitant. Their exhibit was named best new exhibit by the American Zoological Association. They are one of three federally permitted rescue facilities.

If you would like to read about one person's personal encounter with a manatee, follow this link



Alpana Jaiswal said...

Thank you for sharing something I didn't know about,this is the first time I have seen these creatures,I am fascinated...yes,we should all work towards raising our voice to save wild life.

Anonymous said...

I love Manatees and what great information you have given about them! Awesome photos!

Ann said...

Very informative post! Thanks for sharing all the info.

Roy Durham said...

Jim have they tried a sounding device that would warm manatee of the boats. it wound take that much electronic to make a device that could be put on all boats and other watercraft and maybe save a life or two.

JIM said...

Good Question Roy.. I would assume they have thought of it, at least I would hope so. I am thinking od trying to sell one of my images of the manatee and donating all profits to the save the manatee club.. but first I want to check on that site


Ravenmyth said...

Jim, I have known of the plight of the Manatee. I did not know how bad it was getting. I think it is brilliant that you would sell a piece of your art and donate. If you find this site to be good, let us know and those in our community who would donate to Save The Manatee can. I know you can put a Donate Pay Pal on your site, or just direct us to where we need to go. I am on board. I know others would be too. Can not speak for everyone, but this would be a great Cause for our Community...what do you think?

melissa said...

i have heard of other animal plights and this is an additional information...

taking a closer look at the manatee, they do look very gentle... and harmless...poverini...

i immediately thought this is a serious post... and i support your cause...

bjbohls said...

Hello Jim -

One thing I really love about your blog site is the wonderful story-telling you attain while supporting it with outrageously magnificent photos. Honestly, it seems like your blog would be better served in a monthly magazine as a featured section. My opinion. It's excellent. You mentioned, "2010 was a really bad year for the manatee in Florida 767 manatees have been confirmed dead, thats more then 13% of the species' estimated minimum population. That's an alarming rate... 13% died in one year. Imagine if 13% of humans died in 1 year! Let's not but you get my drift!!! Excellent post. :)

Jessica M said...

Beautiful pictures...great info too. It's so important that we help take care of nature and those creatures that dwell within it. A great article. Kudos for caring.

Bongo said...

One of my dreams since I was young is to cuddle with a Manatee....beautiful..thank you...As always...XOXOXO

AJ said...

Heartbreaking, Jim. An animal so gentle does not deserve the kind of violence they are exposed to. But they also remind me of their land namesake - cows are also generally gentle but most meet violent deaths.

sancheeta biswas said...

Manatees are harmless water animals and are in the verge of extinction. did hear of them before and saw them on discovery channel too. thanks for sharing the pictures of the mammal so close. we all must try to protect these wild animals from disappearing among us.

Nelieta said...

Hi Jim, this is so sad but I do believe that there is hope. As long as people like you create the awareness then there is hope! I am going to share this post on as many networks as possible because it needs to be read.

Rimly said...

I have seen these gentle creatures on Discovery Channel and I always wanted to know more about them. Thank you for sharing about them.