Manatees are apex ‘gorgeous marine mammals’. Gentle, inquisitive, brave, long-distance-but-rather-slow-swimming, grass-grazing miracle ur-elephant descendants. They never made it out of the sea in the Miocene epoch.
Incongruous in a world of fast sharks, huge whales and leaping dolphins, they contentedly mooch around the seagrass beds. No one in the world has ever objected to or dissed a manatee. They bring only delight to the sea-world, and offer only charm to mankind.
I’ve written quite often about the small number of manatees that inhabit the turquoise inner waters of the Bahamas. Almost all are named and some are tracked (until they lose their trackers). Their friendships and amorous hook-ups are recorded. Despite their relative scarcity in the Bahamas and a 16-month birth cycle, they produce manatee-lets and the family trees are very gradually growing.
Gina and Calf, Bahamas (BMMRO)
IS THERE A DOWNSIDE FOR THESE APPARENTLY BLISSFUL AND PEACEFUL CREATURES?
Yes indeed. It’s mankind. Among the threats to the survival of these unusual, endearing, and legally protected creatures are, in no particular order:
Pollution of inshore waters and canals
Degradation of the (formerly limitless) sea-grass beds where they feed
Reduction or tainting of the fresh water sources that they need to survive
Understandable over-enthusiasm by admirers – especially in harbours – in dousing them with water from hoses and feeding them lettuce…
…and similar behaviours that may lead to a trusting dependance on humans
Unthinking or speed-selfish boat behaviour in or near harbours resulting in collisions
Simply not caring at all and carving them up, leaving often deep prop-scars. Few manatees escape at least a few of these. Some may not survive.
Let’s celebrate this special day for manatees. Let’s hope that they can survive and prosper in these increasingly difficult and dangerous times for almost all species. Look at any of these photos… can we agree that these wonderful animals deserve care and protection.
All photos: Charlotte Dunn / BMMRO and research contributors
Mrs RH and I are sticking to self-isolation right now (we are fine, but thank you for asking). However I am already breaking my current self-imposed ‘single-picture-and-not-much-writing’ regime with today’s creature feature. The excuse? It is of course the last Wednesday in March and as everyone must know it is Manatee Appreciation Day.
Anyone can (and indeed should) appreciate manatees anywhere at any time, and their contemplation is a way to lift the spirits. They were first found in Abaco waters about a dozen years ago. BMMRO reported their movements and the ongoing research. Later, Bahamian locals enthusiastically followed the lives of Gina, Rita, Georgie, Randy & co; and the calves such as JJ and Sayle (winning name in a public competition). Citizen scientist reports were invaluable to the research. Unsurprisingly, since Hurricane Dorian reports have greatly reduced. Manatees may well still be around but even now, 6 months later, trichechi sightings are sporadic. There are other concerns, after all.
Manatees love the camera and, Madonna-like, are often pleased to ‘strike the pose’. Of a sort.
Today the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) showed their appreciation for manatees with a superb image and an excellent set of Manatee Facts that I recommend to anyone who has read this far. For example, recent broadcasts and news articles have featured the importance of seagrass. You will see that it is the primary diet of manatees.
Not so long ago, most people had no idea that the waters of the Bahamas in general – and Abaco in particular – contained a small population of these curious, gentle, trusting creatures. When I first wrote about them and their adventures, there was surprise – maybe disbelief. A few years later, all that has changed thanks to theBMMROand an outreach program that raised awareness – and consequently the sighting and reporting – of manatees. They are now widely recognised as they nose their way round harbours, docks and landing stages – and quite rightly they still excite delight and a degree of wonderment.
You can find out more – lots more – about Bahamas manatees on my page HERE. I have a post in progress about recent manatee developments with a rescue one but alas I have found I have already run out of week through some kind of bizarre time / space continuum dislocation (specifically, flagrant time-mismanagement). So I am posting a few adorable images to be going on with.
And remember, if you happen to see one, please do report it to the BMMRO or let me know. Useful data includes date, location and a description if possible of any damage – notches and nicks – to the paddle (= tail). It’s a good method for ID. Photos a bonus. Every sighting adds to the database of knowledge about these strangest of creatures of the Bahamian seas. And you’ll be pleased to know that they are undoubtedly managing to breed in the Bahamas: there are baby manatees to prove it…
Are you aware of the Bahamas manatees? Just a few years ago your answer might well have been “Bahamas what? No, why? Where?” But suddenly they arrived. And their numbers are increasing. Alternatively, of course, they have always been there, mooching around peacefully and unnoticed in the seagrass.
Rita and her recently born daughter – Kamalame, Andros
The Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation BMMRO has been keeping tabs on occasional sightings of manatees in Bahamian waters for some years. But until around 2012 – when I first learned of them and wrote about them – they appeared to be few and far between. They seemed to be unrecorded for Abaco, or anyway unphotographed.** Then the sightings began. Names were given to individuals, identified primarily by distinctive marks or cuts on their ‘paddles’ (tails). Gina. Rita. Georgie. Randy. JJ. Sightings in Hope Town, Little Harbour, Cherokee and the Casuarina canal. Manatees had arrived and were being paid attention. The ease of digital photography and the rapidly increasing use of social media resulted in more reports, wider interest and – yes – greater awareness both on Abaco and elsewhere in the wider Bahamas
**so much for being factually assertive! Many thanks to Mary for her account of one on Green Turtle Cay ‘seen by everyone’; and Kelley for her 2008 one in Galleon Bay canal… of which she actually got a photo…
To give you an idea of the rapid spread of the West-Indian Manatee population, here is a great infographic made recently by Felice Leanne Knowles of the BMMRO, mapping 2016 sightings of both known and unidentified manatees in the Bahamas. An amazing 15 in all, in an area where the natural fresh water these creatures need for survival is in short supply.
You’ll see that in July both Gina and Rita had nosed their way down to Andros. At this time, Gina was known to be heavily pregnant. She gave birth in Kamalame Cay, and the photos of her above with her new calf were taken there.
The baby manatee is known to be a female and there is currently a competition to name her. A spreadsheet-worth of names was submitted to the BMMRO, and they have been whittled down to 3 for a final poll-off between Andie (Andros), Kaman (Kam[alame] An[dros]) and Morgan (Arrrrrrrr in Piratese).
Credits: BMMRO and individual photographers whom I will identify when my backup has finished churning away; Felice Leanne Knowles; ‘Kelly’ (header); @kamalamecay; Sarah Jayne Buchanan; Peppermint Narwhal for their (as usual) inspired illustrative graphics.
How could I have forgotten? Here we are, just arrived in south-west France, hemmed in by mountains, sea and Spain. Blissful. Yet there are more important things than mere vacations. Manatees are high on the list of priorities.
So to celebrate their special day, as the bats flitter above our glasses of Mas Rous, here’s an iPhone post in celebration of these curious – in both senses – and gentle creatures. Photos courtesy of BMMRO, with thanks to Felice for her great Bahamas manatee FB page.
Credits: BMMRO, the excellent Peppermint Narwhal (logo)
Gina the Manatee, Eleuthera – expectant mother (BMMRO)
BAHAMAS MANATEES: GINA’S CALF NEEDS A NAME!
Earlier this year I posted the welcome news that Bahamas manatee Gina was beyond any doubt pregnant. You can read about it HERE. Gina has been living for some time in Eleutheran waters, under regular observation by the BMMRO. At the turn of the year, she was re-tagged in Harbour Island, Eleuthera, when her pregnancy was discovered. I promised to give an update and this is a perfect moment. Gina’s calf was safely born and is growing fast. The pair have spent a lot of time in and around Spanish Wells, Eleuthera. Recently they have begun to move further afield, and there have been several sightings with some great photos shared on FB and in particular on Felice Leanne Knowles’s terrific BAHAMAS MANATEE CLUB page, some of which are included here duly credited.
Gina’s calf is currently just called “Gina’s calf”. Its gender is unknown, and it will take a close inspection from below to ascertain from its… I don’t have to go on with this, do I? The point being that the chosen name will need to be unisex because it may take a while until there is sufficient development of the… I don’t have to go on with this either, do I? Let’s see the nameless calf at once! Details of the competition at the end of this post…
Gina with her newborn calf, July 27 (BMMRO) (note apparent prop scars on Gina)
Spanish Wells, October 26 (π Junea Pinder / BMMRO)
Gregory Town, November 5 (Lynne Hirzel / BMMRO)
Hatchet Bay, November 13 (π Jeffrey Louis / BMMRO)
November 18: Now you see it… (π Norma Roberts / BMMRO)
…and now you don’t…
ATTENTION TEAM MANATEES!!! Due to a consistent influx of sighting information and photos, we would like to add Gina’s calf to our catalogue. It would be nice for it to have a NAME!! We cannot monitor these manatees without your help and it is only fitting that YOU name the manatee. The deadline for name suggestions is November 29th, 2015 and the winning name will be revealed on November 30th, 2015. The member with the winning name suggestion will receive an official manatee club T-Shirt!!
1. The name must be submitted on the Club PageBahamas Manatee Clubas an individual post – DO NOT comment your suggestion. 2. The name must be unisex – we do not know the sex of the calf yet. 3. A meaning or description must be submitted along with the name. 4. Please do not submit any derogatory or explicit “names.” 5. If you are submitting on behalf of a child who is not on Facebook, please add their name to the post as well.
Spread the word! Tell your friends and families to join the club and help us with a name!! The name will be selected on it’s meaning or description as it relates to marine mammals OR The Bahamas. The amount of “likes” per post will also go into consideration during the selection process.
Regretful Note: I made the stupid mistake of being amongst the very first to post my suggestion, meaning that after a day or two I’d get no likes at all, as more people got involved and my offering sank slowly. But there’ve been plenty of much better ones since, so probably just as well!
For more information about West Indian manatees, you can visit the MANATEE PAGE. There are several links there to specific manatee stories.
Finally, here is a great manatee map that Felice has recently made, showing which of the increasing number of manatees is where at the moment. Just think, only 4 or 5 were known about four years back. Now look!
Credits: primary founts of Bahamas manatee knowledge Felice & BMMRO; Photos BMMRO, Junea Pinder, Lynne Hirzel, Jeffrey Louis, Norma Roberts
West Indian Manatee Randy, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas
MANATEES IN THE BAHAMAS: A SHORT HISTORY 1904-2015
Felice Leanne Knowles of the Bahamas Manatee Clubhas written a great round-up of the Bahamas manatee history for International Manatee Day. She has included their current whereabouts as at September 2015. I’ve added some illustrative images. I’ve called it a “short” history since, although the incidence of recorded manatee sightings in The Bahamas spans 109 years, there was a complete blank of 73 years until 1976, then only sporadic reports until the 1990s.
Randy at Sandy Point, Abaco (2015). Note the distinctive notch in his paddle that confirms his ID
“The first official documentation of a manatee sighting in The Bahamas was in 1904. The next report was not until 1975. Since the 90’s manatees have been sighted much more frequently.
GINA was first sighted in The Bahamas in 1998 at the AUTEC base in Andros. Since then, she has made The Bahamas her home and has had four calves. Gina is currently in Spanish Wells with her youngest calf of ~ 2 months. RANDY (~7 years old), her son, is currently in Hope Town, Abaco and her daughter JJ (~3.5 years old) was last seen in February, 2015 in Great Harbour Cay, the Berry Islands. Her eldest calf was lost to a motor craft strike.
Gina with one of her calves
Gina with her newest calf, photographed recently in Eleuthera
Since Gina’s arrival, more manatees have been sighted in The Bahamas as persons and organisations became more aware. RITA was first sighted 2009 in Spanish Wells, Eleuthera and was actually pregnant! She gave birth to GEORGIE on June 25th, 2010. Rita was last seen at the AUTEC base in Andros two weeks ago and Georgie was last seen in Casaurina in July 2015. These two ladies have a very interesting story which can be followed on our website: http://www.bahamaswhales.org/news/2012/news_Apr12.html[You can also read about Georgie’s adventure-packed life, with additional links, HERE]
Georgie, Rita’s daughter, at Cherokee, Abaco
Two large adult males are also inhabiting The Bahamas, KONG and BLACKBEARD. Kong was first sighted by BMMRO in December of 2011, but could have been in The Bahamas before. Kong has been a true Berry Islander and has always been sighted in Great Harbour Cay, Berry Islands. Blackbeard was first sighted in Long Island in 2010. Blackbeard got his name because he has surely traveled the Bahamian waters. He has been to Long, Cat, Eleuthera, and New Providence islands. Since his arrival in New Providence in December 2014, he has already circumnavigated the island twice for sure. He has become very popular down there to the residents and to guests.
Randy in a playful mood
There have been sightings of many other manatees, but we have not received enough photographs and information to give the manatees proper identification names and sexes. Currently, we propose that there are ~15 manatees inhabiting The Bahamas, but this number is not set in stone.
As yet unidentified manatee in Marsh Harbour, summer 2015. Note 3 prop scars on its back
BMMRO is working hard to monitor and protect the manatee population in The Bahamas and we cannot do it without the help from the public. Please stay encouraged and continue to care for these magnificent marine mammals. We would like to thank everyone who plays a role in protecting our Bahamian beauty, for providing sighting reports, for providing photographs, and for sharing information about manatees.
Gina checking out the camera! Manatees are gentle & very curious… maybe in both senses
“Always remember your manatee manners: “Do not touch, follow, or chase them, do not feed them, and do not give them fresh water to drink”.”
Gina (adult female) and her calf – last seen August 6th, 2015 in Spanish Wells Key feature – numerous paddle cuts; white oval scar on left side of back; linear scar on posterior right side of body
BAHAMAS MANATEE MAGIC ON ABACO & BEYOND
Four years ago, there were no manatees in Abaco waters. Then a couple of adventuresome sirenians made the trip over from the Berry Is. and since then, there have been at least one, sometimes two and occasionally three resident on Abaco. And for slow, gentle, animals they certainly move around, too. In the past, I wrote quite often about the manatees, charting their journeys based on satellite tracking and sightings. I reported the tantalising prospect of the young male, Randy, hooking up with young female Georgie in Cherokee Sound, only to turn back when he reached Little Harbour. You can read more about the manatees of Abaco on my manatee pageHERE.
Georgie’s epic trip (Sept 12) continued to Cherokee Sound; and Randy’s ‘pursuit’ (Sept 14)
The most comprehensive source for Bahamas Manatee information is now to be found by joining the open Facebook group BAHAMA MANATEE CLUB, skilfully curated by Felice Leanne Knowles. There, you can follow the meanderings of your favourite Abaco manatee, watching as he or she moves around the island and cays. In recent months there have been sightings of single or pairs of manatees in several places, including Sandy Point, Little harbour, Marsh Harbour, Schooner Bay and Hope Town Harbour (where two are right now). Here’s an excellent example of how, just like a Beach Boy, an Abaco manatee gets around. In July, Randy moved from Sandy Point to Schooner Bay in 2 days. The big question is, did he travel round the longer top route, as he has in the past; or (more likely in the time taken) via Hole-in-the-Wall?
Randy the Abaco Manatee goes swimabout
Felice has just produced a great map that shows the present locations of all the Bahamas manatees currently recorded. She has also supplied photos and information about them. Most have names and are well-known to the research team and the locals where they stay. There is one new calf – Gina’s – this year. One or two manatees are new on the scene and have yet to be identified or named.
Manatees Throughout The Bahamas
The map shows the last location of the named manatees. The pink dots label females, the green dots label males, and the yellow dots label unknown manatees. The number of unknown manatees has been approximated to reduce error. The photos are of the individual manatees with dates and specific locations of their most recent sighting. We do not have enough data and photos to confirm the unknowns labeled. Any help from the public would be greatly appreciated. Send sighting reports tohttp://www.bahamaswhales.org/sightings/index.htmlNB Felice points out“Full body and paddle photos are very important for the identification of manatees. Facial shots do not provide enough information for a manatee to be identified”
Georgie (sub-adult female) Last seen in Casuarina, Abaco 9th July, 2015 Key feature – 2 pink scars on the right posterior of her body
Randy (sub-adult male) Last sighted in Hope Town August 12th, 2015 Key feature – triangle cut on right side of paddle
Unknown (adult, presumed female) with Randy Last seen in Hope Town August 12th, 2015 Key feature – 3 prop scars on the posterior right side of body
Gina’s Calf Last seen August 6th, Spanish Wells Key feature – none yet, just really tiny!
Blackbeard (adult male) Last seen in Lyford Cay August 13th, 2015 Key features – triangle cut on right side of paddle (similar to Randy’s); oval scar on centre of paddle; three prop scars on the back and linear scar
Kong (adult male) Last seen in Great Harbour Cay Marina, February 25th, 2015 Key feature – triangle cut on the left side of paddle; linear scar across the back; oval scar on the back near paddle
J.J. (sub-adult female) Last seen in Great Harbour Cay Marina, Berry Islands, February 25th, 2015 Key feature – 3 small semi-circular cuts out of paddle at the very end
Rita (adult female) Last seen 23rd March, 2014 Hawks Nest Marine, Cat Island Key feature – Large triangle cut on right side of paddle; two small triangular cuts side by side forming a “w” on the left side of paddle
Unknown adult, West Grand Bahama – Key feature: too distant!
You may have noticed that several of the manatees shown carry scars attributable to prop wounds. Almost all carry injuries of some sort. Because manatees are slow, gentle, inquisitive and trusting creatures, they are especially vulnerable in harbour areas for obvious reasons. Elsewhere than the Bahamas, boat-strike is one of the main causes of manatee mortality. The BMMRO recently issued the above advisory notice because of the uncertainty about the rights and wrongs of watering manatees from docks with hoses and feeding them lettuce etc. Overall the message is that, though creatures of wonder, they are better off being admired but left to their own devices. They are adept at finding the fresh water sources they need, and their sea-grass diet is amply provided for. Dependence on humans, however well-meaning, is actually harmful.
Credits: first and foremost, Felice Leanne Knowles; also BMMRO, Charlotte, & Diane for permission to make free with their material and photos from the get-go; any other photographers of the manatees shown and posted via BMMRO / FLK (Cha Boyce, Jessica Mullen,Otis Wilhoyte I think, maybe others…)
Last year held hopes of a joyous reunion – and indeed union – in Abaco waters between young manatees Randy and Georgie. He had taken the trip from the Berry Is., around the top of Abaco and down the east coast as far at Little Harbour. She lives in Cherokee. Tantalisingly close. But then Randy retraced his steps as far as Gorda Cay and hopes for the production of Abaco’s first manatee calf (at least, in living / recorded memory) turned to seagrass mulch. The poignant story and some great manatee close-up photos (including a ‘selfie’ of sorts on a Go-Pro) can be foundHERE
But manatees do breed elsewhere in the Bahamas, in particular the Berry Is. They also seem to favour the north end of Eleuthera, and have been seen on Andros and NP. True, the absence of significant freshwater sources in the Bahamas – an essential part of their diet – doesn’t make for an ideal habitat, but manatees do pair off and Bahamas calves are born. In summer 2012, there were four resident West Indian Manatees (Trichechus manatus) living in Great Harbour Cay, Berry Is. The adult female, Gina, had been there for 3 years – she originated from Florida. She had reportedly had 3 or 4 calves and was caring for her latest, a female calf called JJ, born in the late winter of 2011.
Adult female manatees are sexually mature at 6-10 years of age and have a gestation period of 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 is weaned and separates from its mother (see header image of Gina and JJ during that process)
Nursing a growing JJ
Now there is more good news for Gina, who has been under regular observation by the BMMRO. At the turn of the year, Gina was re-tagged in Harbour Island, Eleuthera. As reported, “she looks well, was very calm and is very pregnant… If the tag comes off and is found, please call the number on the tag to let us know – we are now monitoring her movements via the internet”.
Gina’s shows her best side
Tell-tale signs (to experts, anyway) of advanced pregnancy
I will post any further news about Gina as it arises. Meanwhile, for more information about West Indian manatees, you can visit the MANATEE PAGE. There are several links there to specific manatee stories, especially about Rita and her adventurous daughter GEORGIE, Abaco’s current favourite (indeed, only) resident manatee… Both Links need an update, I notice – they don’t cover Georgie’s subsequent return to Abaco and her contented settling down again in Cherokee where she seems happy as a… sirenian.
Credits: All photos and primary fount of Bahamas manatee knowledge: BMMRO; Magpie Pickings
MAKING A SPLASH: SPERM WHALES & MANATEES IN ABACO WATERS
After a quiet spell on the cetacean and sirenian front, there is exciting news to report. First, the BMMRO encountered two sperm whales just off Sandy Point. I don’t know how close to the shore they actually were, but it was very friendly of them to come so near to the BMMRO HQ.
When whales are sighted from the research vessel, one of the tasks is to collect feces. This job is often undertaken by interns, and is a good way to learn that serious research may well involve unattractive work… They practise with… er… coffee grounds and a net. For more on this important yet unappealing aspect of whale research, CLICKNICE TO SEE FAMILIAR FECES. Another essential part of any sighting is to take fluke photos to enable ID. Every whale has different and distinctive patterning to the fluke, including general wear and tear. As a photo archive is built up, the researchers are able to recognise a particular whale and cross-reference it with previous sightings.
The third task of a sighting is to record clicks made by an individual whale. This enables an estimate of the whale’s size to be made, and again a sound archive is gradually built up from which comparisons can be made.
A NEW MANATEE VISITS MARSH HABOUR
FRIENDS OF THE ENVIRONMENT has just reported the sighting of a new manatee at the head of Marsh Harbour harbour. I’m not aware of any other sightings in the last couple of days, but as they say, “Please keep your eyes out and drive carefully! ContactBahamas Marine Mammal Research Organizationwith any further sighting reports by calling 357-6666. You can also share photos with them on Facebook. Also, please do not feed the manatee. They are able to find their own food and anything else may make them unhealthy”.
This is Abaco’s third recent manatee. First there was GEORGIE, who as far as I know is still comfortably settled in the Cherokee area. Then RANDYarrived earlier this and got to within about a few miles of Georgie… High hopes of a meeting – and ‘friendship, maybe more’ – were dashed when Randy turned round and headed back to Castaway Cay. Let’s hope this newcomer stays around. I wonder what he – or she – will be named? My suggestion is Abby or Abi, which I think is unisex…
Just as with the whale flukes, the tail of a manatee is an important means of identification. The new manatee’s tail has its own distinctive edge pattern, which will enable its future recognition. Here is an image of Randy’s tail, with its unique notch.
Credits: BMMRO & FOTE with thanks as ever for use permissions
Strangely, the opportunistic title of this post may not be as contrived or daft as it looks. The facts are these.
THE FEMALE In 2012 GEORGIE, a young female manatee, left her mum in the Berry Islands and braved the crossing to Abaco. She reached the Marls; went right round top and down the east side; and eventually settled in the Cherokee / Casuarina area. She managed to hole up there safely during hurricane Sandy but became sick and was removed to Atlantis for medical treatment and rehab, before being released back to the Berry Is. This spring she set of again for Abaco and seems to have made straight for Cherokee, where she has now been resident for several months.
Georgie the Manatee as a calf in 2012, checking out the BMMRO boat
THE MALERandy also originates from the Berry Is, where he was born. He too set off on an expedition to Abaco in the spring, presumably following Georgie. He was seen at Gorda Cay in mid-August and then fetched up at Sandy Point. After spending the summer there, he too took a trip right round the top of Abaco and down the east side. By early September he had got as far as Little Harbour. However, the big question is whether he can, in some way, tell that a lady manatee is a shortish swim away. And if so, will he make the short trip down the coast? And might that lead to baby manatees on Abaco…? Here are some of the photos of Randy’s sightings along the way
RANDY AT SANDY POINT
Sirenians and cetaceans are generally recognised from particular patterns to flukes or fins. The second image shows the notch in Randy’s tail that confirms ID
RANDY IN THE LITTLE HARBOUR AREA
Randy’s notched tail is clearly visible in the first picture
This could be everyone’s favourite picture – almost like a ‘Randy Selfie’ with a GoPro…
RANDY’S JOURNEY & THE DISTANCE BETWEEN HIM AND LOVE…
Excuse me while I anthropomorphise excessively here. Randy may only be appearing to follow Georgie; the route and the area may happen to suit manatees who may be a short distance apart yet completely ignorant of the presence of the other. Or else… Anyway, more news as (if) it breaks. Here are a couple of maps, of the sort that the red-top press might put together to go with the headline “Lovelorn Randy – A Man Manatee Seeks His Sirenian Siren”. Pictures, page 8, 9, 10 and in sports section.
STOP PRESS SEPT 21
Oh dear. The course of love is rarely straightforward. Randy has retraced his route and returned to Castaway Cay. Meanwhile Georgie remains happily at Cherokee.
AMAZING WHALE, DOLPHIN & MANATEE PHOTOS FROM ABACO
TheBMMRO(Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation) had a great June for sightings of cetaceans and sirenians. Here is a sample of their wonderful photos from recent research expeditions (with thanks as ever for use permission).
RANDY THE WEST INDIAN MANATEE
After the recent excitement of Abaco’s manatee GEORGIEhaving returned to Cherokee after another of her epic journeys, another West Indian manatee has arrived at Sandy Point (conveniently the location of the BMMRO HQ). Sirenians and cetaceans are generally recognised from particular patterns to flukes or fins. The second image shows the notch in Randy’s tail that confirms ID.
BLAINVILLE’S BEAKED WHALES
TWO COMPLETE FLUKES (THIS IMAGE & HEADER)
(note minor damage to the edges, from which ID of an individual can be made)
SPERM WHALE & DIVER
Compare the diver’s fins in the foreground with the (partial) length of a huge sperm whale…
DOLPHINS OF ABACO: WONDERFUL PHOTOS FROM THE BMMRO
The BMMRO (Bahamas Marine Research Organisation) is based at Sandy Point, Abaco. It is dedicated to researching, monitoring, and protecting the marine mammals of a very large area. Not just cetaceans – the dolphins and whales. Recently, a small number of West Indian manatees (sirenians) have been making the northern Bahamas their home. I’ve written plenty about Georgie the adventurous manatee in the past – and in April she returned to her favourite place, Cherokee, after a bit of time away from Abaco.
Recently, photographer Shane Gross spent some time with the BMMRO and took stunning photos of dolphins. It’s impossible to say, or think, anything unpleasant about these lovely, intelligent, playful creatures. Say you ‘don’t much care for dolphins’, and you’d be more than halfway to having a down on kittens. Here are some magnificent images that deserve a wide audience.
BMMRO COLLABORATES WITH NEW PARTNER, ATLANTIS BLUE PROJECT
The ATLANTIS BLUE PROJECT is managed by the Atlantis Blue Project Foundation, a private non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and enhancement of global marine ecosystems through scientific research, education, and community outreach. BMMRO is excited to now be a part of this project and in turn has received two grants from the Atlantis Blue Project for 2014
Stranding Response to Support Conservation of Marine Mammals in the Bahamas
Increasing capacity and available funds to respond rapidly to strandings in The Bahamas will increase our ability to determine cause of death and/or successful rehabilitation of marine mammals. At the first stranding workshop held in the Bahamas in 2008, the Honourable Lawrence Cartwright, Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources officially opened the workshop stating “I believe the establishment of a Marine Mammal Stranding Network in The Bahamas will serve to promote the conservation of marine mammal species and their habitat by improving the rescue and humane care of stranded marine mammals, advancing stranding science, and increasing public awareness through education.” This funding will provide the resources to train veterinarians on how to work with stranded marine mammals as well as provide the resources to respond to strandings.
Field Research & Outreach to Support Conservation of Bahamas Marine Mammals
Cetaceans are long-lived, highly specialised animals with delayed reproduction and low fecundity, which makes them incapable of rapid adaptation and thus particularly vulnerable to anthropogenic impacts. BMMRO has compiled an unprecedented long-term dataset for the region, which has become increasingly valuable to inform about the baseline ecology of some odontocete species. This research will ensure that this important work continues to fill key gaps in our knowledge about the ecology of marine mammals. Additionally, we will increase awareness and build capacity amongst Bahamians, both of which will contribute to local conservation needs.
For Abaco, the excitement is the sperm whale seen just off the Rocky Point area. More generally for the northern Bahamas, in addition to the manatee Georgie (former temporary resident of Abaco) and others, there was a manatee reported on Eleuthera. It looks as though these gently creatures continue to find the area to their liking.
I must be going now – thanks for visiting Rolling Harbour…
GEORGIE THE (FORMER) ABACO MANATEE RETURNS TO THE BERRY IS.
Last year I posted about Georgie, the young manatee that made Abaco her home for several months. Georgie was born in Spanish Wells. She and her mother Rita travelled to Nassau Harbour, where in April 2012 they were rescued from the multiple shipping hazards and released in Great Harbour Cay, Berry Is. Both were equipped with tags to monitor their movements. In June, the newly-weaned Georgie embarked on a big solo adventure by swimming to Abaco. Her tracking device showed that she called in at the Marls, before continuing right round the top of Abaco and down the east side, calling in at various Cays on the way. In all, her journey was some 200 miles long. She eventually settled down in the Cherokee and Casuarina area, and in a modest way became a lettuce-chomping celebrity.
The BMMRO has recently updated Georgie’s story: “Georgie remained in Cherokee Sound throughout the fall, including during hurricane Sandy but in January she was beginning to look slightly underweight. Concern was raised about her general appearance and the decision was made… to conduct a field health assessment and relocate her to the Atlantis Marine Mammal Rescue Center. “
“Georgie underwent a series of general health evaluations and was fed approximately 75 pounds of lettuce each day. She gained more than 200 pounds during the course of her care and weighed 569 pounds upon her recent release”.
“We are pleased to announce that Georgie has now been released once more to Great Harbour Cay in the Berry Islands after a successful rehabilitation at Atlantis’ Dolphin Cay. She was successfully released on Wednesday 14th August by the Atlantis Animal Rescue Team from the Atlantis Dolphin Cay Marine Mammal Rescue Center, with the help of the Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation (BMMRO). She has a satellite tag attached to her which will help post-release monitoring, currently being conducted by representatives from BMMRO and Dolphin Cay.”
Georgie being let down from the boat, back into Great Harbour Cay (K. Ferguson)
Georgie with her tag shortly after release (K. Ferguson)
Georgie socialising with a young male manatee in Great Harbour Cay a few days later (K. Ferguson)
“The first 3 weeks of Georgie’s release showed her venturing on longer and longer journeys, with the blue circles showing her first weeks’ movements, the red her second, and finally the yellow circles her locations up to Saturday. She is doing very well and often seen with the other manatees in the area.”
GEORGIE: THE MOVIE OF THE MOVIE
Apologies for using an iPh*ne to capture the movie – I wasn’t able to embed it directly. Updates on Georgie will be posted on BMMRO’sFACEBOOK PAGE
Credits and thanks to BMMRO and Kendria Ferguson for use of photos and the maroon text…
The legendaryCONCH SALAD TVis a great resource for Bahamas wildlife and way-of-life enlightenment. Their instructive videos are very well put together, and cover Nature, Marine, Art, Science, Music, Culture, Cooking, and broader Bahamas issues. The video below is 9 minutes of Bottlenose Dolphin action, and is recommended for relaxation, gentle instruction, and Kalik-swigging accompaniment…
It time to catch up with last month’s Cetacean sightings around Abaco. The Manatee reports are of Georgie in the Cherokee area – alas no longer resident on Abaco but safely at Atlantis where she is being cared for. To know more about the Blainville’s beaked whale on Abaco, click HERE
GEORGIE THE ABACO MANATEE: FAREWELL CHEROKEE, HELLO ATLANTIS
Many people have shown an interest in the adventures of Georgie the Manatee over the last 18 months or so, and the work of the BMMRO in monitoring her movements and welfare. She has travelled a great many miles in that time, to and around Abaco; settled down eventually in Cherokee; successfully shed her satellite tag; gone awol a couple of times; and happily reappeared at Cherokee each time. Recently there have been increasing concerns about her wellbeing, and a joint venture has overseen her capture & return to the Atlantis Marine Mammal Rescue Center for observations and health evaluation. The full story published in the Bahamas Weekly [click logo below] with photos by Tim Aylen is set out below. I have also included some very good pictures of Georgie and the preparations for her journey, taken by Cindy James Pinder (with thanks for permission to use them). So Abaco – and Cherokee in particular – has sadly lost its only (briefly) resident manatee. I can’t make out when the last resident manatee was recorded on Abaco, but not very recently I think. Fingers crossed for Georgie’s future – I will continue to post updates on how she gets on.
UPDATE 1 FROM BMMRO“On January 26th, Georgie was captured in Casaurina canal and transported to Dolphin Cay-Atlantis. Videos taken by BMMRO on January 15th highlighted areas of concern in regards to Georgie’s current body condition. Those videos were then circulated amongst a group of manatee researches abroad and their opinions and advice were taken into consideration by the Department of Marine Resources (DMR). Georgie had lost a considerable amount of weight since her arrival to Abaco (September 2012) and need medical attention. DMR gave Dolphin Cay permission to capture Georgie and transport her to their marine mammal rehabilitation facility until she was healthy enough to return to the wild. Health assessments were conducted the day of capture (prior to transporting her to Nassau) and on January 27th. BMMRO’s Manatee Lady (and Educational Officer), Kendria Ferguson, visited Georgie on January 29th and is happy to report that Georgie is doing well. She is currently on a meal plan that will assist her with getting the necessary nutrients she needs to get healthy. BMMRO will continue to monitor Georgie’s progress and will provide updates here on our FB page. Thank you for all your support, please help us to continue to monitor manatees in The Bahamas by making a donation on our website www.bahamaswhales.org.”
ATLANTIS RESCUES ENDANGERED MANATEE & RELOCATES HER TO DOLPHIN CAY
By Atlantis, Paradise Island and One&Only Ocean Club Jan 31, 2013 6:22:53 PM
Photo: Tim Aylen
PARADISE ISLAND, THE BAHAMASThe Atlantis Animal Rescue Team, under the direction of the Bahamas Department of Marine Resources (BDMR) and with assistance from The Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organization (BMMRO), successfully rescued Georgie, a West Indian manatee and relocated her to the Atlantis Dolphin Cay Marine Mammal Rescue Center. Dolphin Cay is home to the only live marine mammal rescue and rehabilitation center in The Bahamas and is a member of the Bahamas Marine Mammal Stranding Network. Manatees in addition to all marine mammals are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 2005 and only authorized facilities are able to respond such requests from Government.
Georgie was first sighted in Spanish Wells in June 2010 where she was born to Rita, a known Florida Manatee. In October of 2011 both Rita and Georgie appeared in the busy Nassau Harbor and at the request of the Bahamas Government, the Dolphin Cay Team rescued them and brought them to a safe environment at the Atlantis Dolphin Cay Marine Mammal Rescue Center where health assessments and evaluations could be conducted. With the assistance of the BDMR, BMMRO, United States Geological Survey, and Save the Manatee Club, the Atlantis Animal Rescue Team released both Rita and Georgie in April of 2012, equipped with tags to monitor their movements for several months. In October of 2012, it was observed that Rita and Georgie had split up and Georgie made a dramatic move from the Berry Islands release site to Cherokee in Abaco, The Bahamas. The Dolphin Cay team made several trips to Abaco, meeting up with BMMRO to try to get a good look at Georgie’s overall body condition. Concern was raised by BMMRO recently about her general appearance and the decision was made by the Department of Marine Resources for the Dolphin Cay team to conduct a field health assessment and relocate her to the Atlantis Marine Mammal Rescue Center.
Photo: Tim Aylen
Georgie will undergo a series of general health evaluations. Once she is healthy, the teams will pull together once again and relocate her back to Great Harbor Cay in the Berry Islands with the hope that she rejoins with the resident group of manatees in that area. At this time, Georgie is under observation at Dolphin Cay and doing well in her new environment.
Atlantis is the home of world’s largest open-air marine habitat with over 50,000 marine animals in lagoons and displays as well as Dolphin Cay, the state-of-the-art dolphin interaction and education center. Dolphin Cay and Atlantis are accredited members of both the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and The Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums. Both the marine habitat and Dolphin Cay were created with the goal of enlightening visitors about the wonders of these remarkable ocean inhabitants. Dolphin Cay is also the residence of the Katrina Dolphins and Sea Lions some of whom were swept to sea during Hurricane Katrina.
The last quarter of 2012 produced relatively few open-ocean CETACEANsightings, not least because of a reduction in spotting trips during the period, with some members of the team elsewhere in the world completing their research. SIRENIANactivity is thankfully on the increase, with reporting opportunities increased by the manatees’ preference for sticking close inshore, usually in harbour areas. Georgie has gained her first yellow spot as Abaco’s only resident manatee following her long trip over from the Berry Is. (and away from mother Rita) last summer. She has taken up residence in Cherokee. She performed a worrying vanishing trick during Hurricane Sandy, holing up (presumably) in seagrass off-shore, and (definitely) in an inshore channel for some of the time. She went AWOL again before Christmas, but has returned to Cherokee in good condition after a short vacation. Having shed her tag (several times) it was not possible to track her. The big plus is that she has proved capable of independent living, and has not become reliant on proximity to humans and their offerings of cabbage leaves etc… This photo was taken at Cherokee a few days ago.
The other notable new entry is a manatee sighting in the Freeport area of Grand Bahama. A single photo exists – a head shot – but it hasn’t been possible to identify the creature as a known one. (S)he may be a new visitor to the Bahamas. People in the area are asked to report any further sightings in the area to the BMMRO – and if possible to get a picture!
Mid-frequency broadband sounds of Blainville’s beaked whales
Recent research has been carried out on the sound variations of this relatively little-understood species of whale. “Recordings from acoustic tags show that five Blainville’s beaked whales produced mid-frequency broadband sounds on all of their deep dives, with each sex producing two different sound types. These broadband sounds are atypical of the regular echolocation sounds previously described for this species. One male produced a total of 75 sounds over four dives, between the depths of 109 and 524 meters, and four females produced a total of 71 sounds over 18 dives, between the depths of 305 and 1289 meters. Ninety-six percent of the male sounds and 42 percent of the female sounds were produced before the onset of foraging echolocation sounds, and all were produced before the deepest point of the dives. These sounds may be candidate communication signals, with their production timed to mitigate the risk of both predation and hypoxia (oxygen deprivation).”
The report includes sample sounds from the 3 BBWs shown below, and the one heading the page. I haven’t found a way to embed the sounds, but I am working on it (there’s a time -consuming method involving conversion to MP3, but maybe another day…)
Blainville’s Beaked Whales, Abaco, Bahamas
Thanks to the prolific DEAR KITTY for a cross-reference to this topic on her website, featuring a fine video of BBW in French Polynesia
Finally, the action-packed, information-filled, image-laden 4 page winter newsletter. Click below to open.
A report by Kendria Ferguson on the impact of Hurricanes Sandy for the BMMRO
After all the exciting but unexpected events of October, slowly life is returning to normal. As the whimsical but intimidating winds of Hurricane Sandy encompassed the research center, we felt a few limited blockbuster hits. Without power for four days and no contact with the world outside of Sandy Point, we felt like we were in a twilight zone! Hurricane force winds crept up on Abaco during the wee hours on Thursday, October 25th; predicted to be a Category 1, Hurricane Sandy surely made her presence felt! Luckily, we only had a few minor leaks at the research center but the community of Sandy Point and other parts of Abaco had severe flooding and extensive damage.
Trapped in a house for four days with a hurricane that refused to leave, our concern for Georgie (the Christopher Columbus of our Bahamian manatees) began to grow. Georgie recently separated from her mother (Rita) in June of this year, and shortly thereafter decided to take a detour to Abaco, over 70 miles from the Berry Islands, Northern Bahamas, where she previously resided with a small population of manatees. Having travelled a tremendous distance around Abaco, she finally settled in at a small community called Cherokee Sound, located on the eastern side of Abaco. During Hurricane Irene, October 2011, Georgie and her mother swam from Spanish Wells, Eleuthera to Nassau. Whether this shift in locations was entirely due to the passing of a hurricane is unknown but scientists feared that Georgie could possibly get confused during the storm and take off to an unknown location.
Last sighted on the 24th of October, Georgie wasn’t seen again until November 4th, almost a week after Sandy had passed the community of Cherokee. She returned with a back covered in moss, an outstandingly healthy looking figure and thankfully no visible injuries/wounds as a result of the storm (these photos were taken on November 5th).
After hurricanes, an increase in shark bites has been documented amongst the dolphin population that inhabit the Little Bahama Bank (Fearnbach et al. 2012). Scientists believe that hurricanes may be the driving force for the relocation of dolphins to waters deeper than their preferred habitat which therefore makes them more accessible to predators such as oceanic sharks. Increase in wave height, storm surge, sediment erosion and deposition can make these once tranquil shallow habitats confusing for dolphins and manatees to navigate.
Photograph of a juvenile dolphin with a fresh and severe shark-bite wound on its flank
In the 1980’s and 1990’s, a decline in adult survival rate after the passing of major hurricanes (Category 3 and higher) among manatee populations in Florida were attributed to possible injury from debris, strandings and displacement of animals as a result of habitat loss and strong water currents (Langtimm et al. 2003).
As we hoped, Georgie appeared to have tucked herself into the nearby mangroves and returned within eyesight when she felt it was safe enough to leave the shelter she sought out during hurricane Sandy. Now that the storm has passed, falling debris has been cleared and our shallow water habitats have returned to the calm and often crystal clear waters we remembered them to be. We can all now let out a huge sigh of relief! We all survived Super-Storm-Sandy!
Fearnbach, H. D. (2012). Seasonality of calving and predation risk in bottlenose dolphins on Little Bahama Bank. . Marine Mammal Science, 28(2), 402-411. Langtimm, C. A. (2003). Lower survival probabilities for adult Florida manatees in years with intense coastal storms. Ecological Applications, 13:257-268.
Story by Kedria Ferguson, BMMRO’s education officer and manatee expert
GEORGIE THE ABACO MANATEE: IS SHE RELATED TO AN ELEPHANT?
Georgie, having returned to Cherokee after Hurricane Sandy, is still around there and seems to have made it her home. While she was missing, it was thought she had headed off instinctively for the protection of the mangroves. However a number of sighting reports made since Sandy suggest that she had sensibly swum up the canal at Casuarina, where she was able to keep her head down until the storm had safely cleared northwards, and she was able to return to base. Because she had shed her tag, we’ll never know the full story…
Georgie safely back at Cherokee after Hurricane Sandy
Recently an interesting article by BEACH CHAIR SCIENTISTconsidered the relationship between sirenians and pachyderms, and added some handy comparative facts (you can seen more manatee facts on this blog HERE). Thanks, BCS, for use permission (the relevant credits are contained in the article).
It might be very difficult to imagine, but manatees (also known as ‘sea cows’) share a common ancestor with elephants which might come as a surprise if you thought manatees shared a common ancestor with other marine mammals such as dolphins, whales, or sea lions. Here are 10 facts that link manatees and elephants are long-lost relatives.
1. Scientifically, manatees and elephants are classified as subungulates. Other mammals in the Subungulata superorder are hyraxes and aardvarks.
2.Manatees and elephants have anuncommon-shaped heart that is spherical. To compare, most mammals have a single-pointed tip at the base (i.e., “heart”—shaped).
3. The West Indian and West African manatee have three or four fingernail-like structures on the tip of their flippers, just like that of the toenails on the feet of elephants.
4. Manatees and elephants both have a thick, gray skin with very sparse hair.
5. Manatees and elephants have molars which move toward the front of the mouth, eventually break off, and are restored by those at the rear. Elephants have a limited number while manatees are never-ending.
6. Manatees have two incisors that bear a resemblance to elephant tusks.
7. Manatees use their large, flexible muscular lips to break apart vegetation in the water and skillfully steer food to their mouths. This is very similar to the action of the elephant eating with his trunk.
8. Manatees and elephants are herbivores. Manatees tend to feast on sea grass and freshwater plants and consume up to 100-150 pounds a day. Elephants tend to feast on small plants, bushes, fruit, twigs, tree bark, and roots and consume up to 330-375 pounds a day.
9. Male manatees and elephants are known as bulls. Female manatee and elephants are known as cows. Young manatee and elephants are known as calves.
10. Manatees and elephants are both endangered. Their numbers have dropped due in a large part to human activities.