GEORGIE THE ABACO MANATEE – CHEROKEE’S SIRENIAN VISITOR STAYS ON…


GEORGIE THE ABACO MANATEE – CHEROKEE’S SIRENIAN VISITOR  STAYS ON…

There must be something special about Cherokee on Abaco. Georgie the Manatee, having travelled over from the Berry Is. early last month, spent 4 weeks or so on the move. She was tracked on the west side of Abaco in the Marls, moving north and rounding Little Abaco, then travelling south visiting various Cays along the way, ending up in Hope Town harbour. After a few days she moved across from Elbow Cay to the Little Harbour area, before settling down in Cherokee. That was nearly 3 weeks ago. She’s still there, by far the longest she has stayed in one place

Maybe the sea grass is especially good there. Or maybe she has found a tasty freshwater spring. Or it could be that she is enjoying the company there, and the welcome from the community – though she of course has been a very popular visitor in all her ports of call. Whatever the reason, she seems to be happy and in good health. Kendria Ferguson (BMMRO) has just sent me 3 photos from her visit to Cherokee today. Georgie has managed to shed her tag – again – but since everyone knows where she is, it doesn’t matter for now…

The image below is also posted on the BMMRO’s FACEBOOK PAGE and maybe gives a clue to why Georgie is so content – calm, friendly interest and attention. The next one is of a young boy inspecting Georgie, also in Cherokee. Equally peaceful.

Let’s compare and contrast those serene pictures with another taken recently – the woman below who was detained in Florida for her ‘manatee riding’ antics…

“GEORGIE” THE MANATEE MOVIE: ON LOCATION AT CHEROKEE, ABACO


UPDATE 17 OCT I gather that Georgie is so pleased with her new home at Cherokee, she’s still there. Not sure if she is with or without her tag, but I suppose if she has decided to stay put in one area, tracking her is not a priority. Maybe the sea grass there is a particularly good kind – or perhaps she has found natural springs to her liking. Maybe it’s the folk who live there… yes, I think it must be that. I’m hoping to get some more specific news soon, and some more photos.

UPDATE 7 OCT Kendria says that Georgie has managed to lose her tag yet again. She’s still at Cherokee, but if she decides to make a move, she can now be tracked only from reported sightings. Maybe she just doesn’t like to accessorise…

UPDATE 6 OCT Georgie has taken to life in Cherokee. She is still there – the longest she has stayed on one place during her epic journey. She’s a very popular guest, of course, and  has generated a lot of local interest and affection. Here’s a BMMRO photo taken yesterday of Georgie enjoying some quality algae browsing on the pilings in the dock

“GEORGIE” THE MANATEE MOVIE: ON LOCATION AT CHEROKEE, ABACO

The story of Georgie, the young female manatee currently undertaking a round trip of Abaco, has further raised the profile of these unusual and fascinating creatures in the northern Bahamas. Like many others who have been enthused by this important conservation and research project, I’ve been following her story since her release with her mother Rita in the Berry Is. earlier this year. In June she was weaned. In September she decided to set off to sea grass pastures new –  see GEORGIE for details

Yesterday she was still in the Cherokee area, but had lost her tag. The task was to locate her, find the tag and reattach it, and check her wellbeing. All were accomplished in the course of the day and the BMMRO posted: “Today was another day in Georgie’s ‘world according to Georgie’!!! A special BMMRO thank you and Manatee high five to Andrew Lowe, Cindy & Buddy, and the community of Cherokee! Georgie is lucky to have such caring people around! She is still parked at Cherokee and BMMRO will do their best to continue to monitor her health and habitat use in the area!”

Things have moved on a bit since then, and I am really grateful to Kendria Ferguson for finding the time to email me; and to Cindy James Pinder  for permission to use her excellent photographic material from her time spent with Georgie. Her latest news is that Georgie is moving south towards Casuarina. There are blue holes in the area where she can find fresh water. Cindy adds “She may show up in the canal in Casuarina today. If you see her please offer her fresh water from a hose.”

It’s time to showcase a short video taken by Cindy at Cherokee yesterday. In order to post it here I have had to make a derivative movie from the original. It’s like an uncontentious bootleg, i.e. made with the artist’s approval (for which many thanks!). The quality isn’t as good of course, but you will clearly see what is endearing about these inquisitive, gentle and trusting creatures – and why this makes them so vulnerable and in need of protection. Only today, a woman has been detained in Florida for riding a manatee – a strictly unlawful act that has been strongly condemned.

Here are some stills also taken by Cindy yesterday, who says “…in case you are wondering . . . a manatee feels like leather!”. They depend on having some fresh water, and these great pictures show various methods of supplying it. The top one is my favourite.

HELP NEEDED If you would like to support manatee research and conservation in The Bahamas, please email info@bahamaswhales.org or rollingharbour.delphi@gmail.com 
This is the perfect place and time to post the BMMRO September 2012 Whale, Dolphin and Manatee sightings map. Last month the cetacean count was very low – no whales at all, a solitary dolphin. However, manatees are starting to feature much more, and the Abaco sightings – presumably of Georgie as she progresses round the Islands  - are the first ones recorded there (I think) since manatee sightings began to be included towards the end of last year. A cause for breaking out the fresh water to celebrate.
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MUSICAL AFTERNOTES The video music is Rizraklaru by Ralph McTell (before he arguably spoilt it all with the mawkish ‘Streets of London’) from ‘Spiral Staircase’ (credit / plug for RM). He wrote it in 1967 while living in an old caravan in deepest Cornwall. He and his mates had only mother nature’s ‘Rural Karzi’ to use, and the song title is an anagram. It’s a long story that ends, in RM’s words, “After he’d stopped laughing, Henry and I explained the title’s origin [to him] and he suggested an anagram, so we put the first letter last and spelt the whole thing backwards, and there you have it ! RIZRAKLARU !” 

ABACO MANATEE GEORGIE’S TRIP: HOPE TOWN TO CHEROKEE


ABACO’S MANATEE, GEORGIE, SWIMS  FROM HOPE TOWN VIA LITTLE HARBOUR TO CHEROKEE

GEORGIE UPDATE 2 OCT Cindy James Pinder has posted on Facebook “Oh no, Georgie the manatee has lost her tracking device. Be on the look out for it in the Cherokee area. We are going to go out and look for her tomorrow with BMMRO. We are hoping that she goes back to the dock area looking for fresh water.” 

BMMRO UPDATE 1 OCT I’ve just heard from Diane Claridge and Kendria Ferguson. They have kindly clarified the details of Georgie’s route, which makes her journey longer than my guesstimate (see below). Georgie has continued on her way, and after some resting and some quality sea grass munching, Kendria says (yesterday ) “…right now she is in CHEROKEE!”. I’m not sure where the fresh water springs are along the east coast, but I am beginning to think that Georgie may be on her way to check out Rolling Harbour and the Delphi Club, drawn by telepathic and symbiotic forces as yet unexplained, projected from the blogosphere… 

BMMRO FACEBOOK “Georgie the manatee is creating quit a stir in Cherokee! Thank you for the sighting reports! (get some photos please!) To everyone there please don’t feed her lettuce. Manatees become very dependent on humans-their fast learners! It also teaches them to come into marinas which is where their number one predator lives – BOATS!! We want to ensure Georgie’s safety whiles she is here! We are unfamiliar with the area-so if anyone knows of any natural freshwater resources (shallow water seepage/blueholes) please do share that info! It is ok to give her a hose, mainly because we are not sure if she’s getting adequate freshwater in the area. Please remember she is a toddler and her belly is never full so have a cut off limit!  See you tomorrow Cherokee!! Take care of Georgie!”

Georgie’s next stop?

BMMRO report 30 SEP Georgie the manatee continues to travel around the Abaco’s! Fitted with a new satellite tag, she is currently exploring LITTLE HARBOUR. Yesterday, scientists caught up with her by CORNISH CAY where she was taking a quick nap and feeding on seagrass. We will continue to update the public on her whereabouts. Thank you to everyone for all their assistance in locating Georgie and ensuring her safety whiles she takes a much needed vacation from the Berry Islands.

A short time ago I wondered (in print) when a manatee would next be seen in Abaco waters – the nearest candidates being the small Berry Is. population. The answer was quick. Now! Georgie – the recently weaned calf of Rita – had swum across from the Berrys to Abaco, explored the Marls, headed  north to Little Abaco, then travelled south on the eastern side of Abaco. She was spotted at Green Turtle Cay, but it had become clear that her satellite tag was malfunctioning, so locating Georgie and monitoring her progress depended on reported sightings.

The BMMRO reported yesterday “Georgie the manatee was sighted at the Sailing Club dock in Hope Town Harbour just after 2pm today! We’d appreciate any further sighting reports as to her whereabouts! Please drive carefully in and around Hope Town Harbour.” Hope Town resident Stafford Patterson was able to get 2 fine photos of Georgie. I contacted him about using them, and he has replied “Permission granted!! And we were happy to host Georgie yesterday.” So here is Abaco’s sole resident manatee (as far as I am aware) enjoying her visit to Elbow Cay.

A team was able to fit a new satellite tag to Georgie (see below), so following her adventures will now be much easier. But where will she go next? What this space or, better still, check out the BMMRO FACEBOOK page

STOP PRESS I’ve been wondering about the distance Georgie has travelled (remembering always that she was weaned only recently). So with the the help of an online map measuring thingy (Free! Cool!), here’s a calculation based loosely on more assumptions than you will find on ASSUMPTION ISLAND. For a start, I don’t know where in the Berry Is. Georgie officially set off from; nor where she was seen on  the Marls; nor how she negotiated Little Abaco and the Cays along the east coast of Abaco; nor how many times she circled round exploring as she went. However, taking the ‘as the manatee swims’ direct line approach and assuming no significant deviations, the gizmo reckons the journey was a minimum of 150 miles. With any luck the recovered defective tag will have recorded her exact route, and amply demonstrate that I have wasted 1/2 an hour on this. Still, I wanted to know…

 

And for anyone wondering about Assumption Island, it does indeed exist, located in the Indian Ocean north of Madagascar. And the spooky thing is… it is shaped remarkably like a manatee! Well, quite like one, anyway.

Assumption Island (geographically correct)  Assumption Island (manatee rotation)      Awww…Cute!!!

                                

Credit: savethemanatee.org

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