WEST INDIAN MANATEES AND THE BAHAMAS: THE FACTS


WEST INDIAN MANATEES IN THE BAHAMAS

The appearance of a mother and calf manatee off the Berry Islands in December 2011 – see BMMRO SIGHTINGS post – led me to investigate these creatures a bit more. I added some more info and a couple of photos to that post, but really they deserve a post in their own right. So, with a wave of a flipper in the direction of Wiki and other open sources,  here’s some more about these most strange-looking mammals, just in case you ever happen to come across one…

I will expand the post when I have read the latest “What Manatee?”, “Total Manatee” and “Manatee Monthly” magazines 

MANATEES Trichechidae “Large, fully aquatic, mostly herbivorous marine mammals. There are three accepted living species of Trichechidae, representing three of the four living species in the order Sirenia. The name manatí comes from the Taíno, a pre-Columbian people of the Caribbean, meaning breast” 

10 MEMORABLE MORSELS OF MANATEE MINUTIAE

The 4 species of Sirenia are the West Indian, Amazonian and West African manatee; and the Asian / Pacific dugong. Fossil remains of Florida manatees date back 45 million years; their closest living relative is the elephant

Manatees are also known as Sea Cows. Some say sailors who’d been at sea for too long took them to be mermaids, a mistake I doubt they made twice…

They can weigh up to 1,300 lb and measure up to 13 feet. Females are larger than males. Baby manatees may weigh 65 lb. Adult intestines can reach 45 meters which would take Usain Bolt 4.31 seconds to run past (if straightened out, obviously)

Accurate population estimates seem to be impossible to obtain, varying by season and by year for no apparent reason. Overall,  the picture is of a declining population, with extinction likely without further protection (see below for the THREATS to the species)

West Indian Manatees can move freely between extremes of salinity, and may be found in warm shallow coastal waters, in estuaries, or migrated into rivers to freshwater springs (as in Florida). They cannot survive below 15°C (60°F). They have a propensity to hang around the warm-water outflows of power stations

Manatees have some intelligence and demonstrate discrimination and task-learning similar to dolphins.Their eyelids close “in a circular manner”, though I can’t quite picture this. They have only 6 teeth in each jaw, which are replaced throughout their lives

They breed every other year. Gestation lasts 12 months, and it takes a further 12 to 18 months to wean the calf. A single calf is born. Apart from mothers with a calf or males showing off to females, manatees tend to be solitary creatures

They are herbivores, eating many plant species, such as mangrove leaves, turtle grass, and types of algae. An adult manatee can eat up to 10% of its body weight per day. They have been known to eat small amounts of fish from nets

Half a manatee’s day is spent sleeping in the water. The rest of the time they graze in shallow waters. They swim at 3 to 5 mph, faster in short bursts. They may live up to 60 years (surprisingly, given their punishing daily schedule)

The oldest manatee in captivity is Snooty, at the South Florida Museum. He was born at the Miami Seaquarium on July 21, 1948 and came to the South Florida Museum in Bradenton, Florida in 1949

   PREDATION, THREATS AND CONSERVATION – A SUMMARY       The manatee is yet another creature whose worst enemy is mankind. The generalisations below apply to the West Indian manatee – elsewhere there may be different problems

Natural predators Manatees have few natural predators except, occasionally, sharks and crocodiles. Predation is not a significant survival threat. The main causes of death are human-related, such as habitat destruction and human marine objects; and natural causes such as low water temperature and disease

Hunting Historically, manatees were hunted for meat. They were easy to tempt to a canoe and then stun with a pole. Manatee hides were used – and traded – for canoes and shoes; their bones were used for ‘medicine’. Museums used to pay for hides or bones. Hunting was banned in 1893, though some poaching still occurs

                    Manatee Group                                                        Young Manatee                            

 Ship-strike Manatees move slowly and are curious… Coastal development has led to many violent collisions with propeller-driven boats and ships, causing maiming, disfigurement, and death. Manatees are cut in half by large vessels like ships and tugs. Many others have propeller scars and they can often be identified by their scar patterns -  some bear 50 scars and disfigurements from vessel strikes. Breeding ability may be affected. Infected injuries can prove fatal. Internal injuries also come from being trapped between hulls and docks. Studies of the attrition rate from “boat mortality” alone is causing much concern for the survival of the species. In 2009, of 429 Florida manatees recorded dead, 97 (23%) were killed by commercial and recreational vessels

Red tide Another cause of manatee deaths is “red tide”, blooms of the microscopic marine algae Karenia Brevis.  This produces toxins that affect the central nervous systems of sea creatures. In 1996 an outbreak off the Florida coast killed 151 manatees

Other threats (1) Fishing gear: hooks, metal weights, and especially  mono-filament line clogging a manatee’s digestive system; entanglement in fishing lines (2) water-control structures such as navigation locks and floodgates (3) drowning in pipes and culverts (4) bizarrely, there have been numerous reports people, when allowed to swim with manatees in Florida, harassing them

CONSERVATION All three species of manatee are listed by the World Conservation Union as vulnerable to extinction. It is illegal under US federal and Florida law to injure or harm a manatee. They are classified as endangered by both the US state and the federal governments. Some vessels are now adapted to help prevent harm to manatees where they operate

Florida Sea Park Manatee

For news of forthcoming BMMRO research into the apparent recovery in the population of manatees in the Bahamas CLICK HERE

Finally, here’s the link to a website that contains more manatee information and images. You can join, adopt a manatee, donate or buy stuff. Who wouldn’t want a T-shirt – or a ‘ManaT-shirt’, even – adorned with a picture of the lady above? CLICK LINK===>>> SAVE THE MANATEE CLUB

One thought on “WEST INDIAN MANATEES AND THE BAHAMAS: THE FACTS

  1. Pingback: GEORGIE THE ABACO MANATEE: IS SHE RELATED TO AN ELEPHANT? | ROLLING HARBOUR ABACO

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