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
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.
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