WEST INDIAN MANATEES: GOOD NEWS FROM BMMRO, BAHAMAS


GEORGIE THE MANATEE IS WEANED

It’s good to look beyond the immediate area of Abaco and the Cays when the occasion calls for it – for example, more good news about the BMMRO’s painstaking research and careful protective monitoring of the very small West Indian Manatee population in the Bahamas. I’ve written before about these gentle, unhurried, curious creatures and their vulnerability – particularly to man’s usage of their natural habitat CLICK ===>>> MANATEES 

Kendria Ferguson’s story below shows just one aspect of the BMMRO’s commitment to the conservation of the cetaceans and sirenians in the seas around Abaco and beyond. The Manatees have excited the interest of the whole local community including the schoolchildren. If you have ever been moved by the sight of dolphins in Marsh Harbour or whales further out to sea, you can be sure someone is keeping an eye on their well-being. You might even be moved to help this important conservation work, in which case CLICK ===>>> HERE

KENDRIA’S REPORT

Adult female manatees are considered sexually mature at 6-10 years of age and have a gestation period that lasts up to 13 months. The first two years of a calf’s life is spent with its mother. During this time they are taught where to find food, fresh water, warmth and shelter. Generally, after two years the calf separates from its mother. This separation is known as ‘weaning’.

On the 14th of June 2012 Argos satellite locations received from both Rita and Georgie’s satellite tags indicated that they were no longer traveling together. Georgie had been weaned. Georgie was born on the 25th June 2010, therefore Georgie was now old enough to survive on her own in the wild

Georgie fitted with a paddle belt around the base of her tail. A flexible nylon tether is then attached to this belt with the satellite tag, which floats when it’s near the surface.Photo provided by Jim Reid-USGS Sirenia Project

After tracking Rita and Georgie for the last three months, it was hard to fathom a two year old being old enough to take on the world. But like they say – mothers know best!

Rita and Georgie fitted with satellite tags

Rita and Georgie were released in Great Harbour Cay (GHC) on April 19th of this year. They travelled to Nassau during Hurricane Irene (late August 2011) from Spanish Wells, Eleuthera and ended up in Nassau harbour. Concerned for their safety, The Department of Marine Resources gave Atlantis-Dolphin Cay permission to capture the animals and house them until a decision was made as to their release. After spending over twenty-five weeks in captivity, scientists feared that Georgie would be weaned before she was returned to the wild and given the opportunity to learn how to survive in her natural habitat. The mother-calf pair was transported to The Berry Islands on April 19th, where they were released and fitted with VHF data log satellite tags.

A map showing areas visited by Georgie pre-weaning and post-weaning

There are four resident West Indian Manatees (Trichechus manatus) residing in Great Harbour Cay, Berry Islands. Notably, an adult female, “Gina” (known previously from Florida), has been residing in Great Harbour Cay since 1999. Since then she reportedly has had 3-4 calves and is currently accompanied by her female calf, JJ, which was born in the late winter of 2011.

Within Rita’s and Georgie’s first week of being released they travelled over 50 miles around the east coast of GHC to as far south as Ambergris Cays and back into the harbour where they were released. During the winter months, Floridian West Indian Manatees (Trichechus manatus latirostris) travel vast distances in search of warm waters. So it isn’t uncommon for these agile species to explore the shallow waters in which they inhabit.

Georgie is now re-visiting important habitat areas she visited in the past with her mother. Since their separation in June, Rita and Georgie have been seen together in the harbour by the local community.

Scientists will continue to monitor Georgie’s movement patterns around The Berry Islands throughout the hurricane and winter seasons. This data will assist us in developing a management plan for manatees in The Bahamas.

Story written by Kendria Ferguson, BMMRO’s resident manatee expert

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