BAHAMAS MANATEES: INTRODUCING RITA & GEORGIE – FOLLOW THEIR BLOG


BMMRO MANATEE BLOG

A couple of weeks ago I posted about the Manatees of the Bahamas, including the news that a female manatee and her calf had recently been reintroduced into the wild. To see that post CLICK===>>> RITA & GEORGIE

The BMMRO have now set up a Rita and Georgie blog so that the news of their progress and tracking reports can be seen by all. This will be a regular feature on the BMMRO site, and I reproduce with permission the first report below so that you can see what is involved. 

To follow the tale of Rita and Georgie CLICK LOGO===>>>     I will repeat this logo link in future monthly cetacean sighting reports, with a short summary, so you can get the latest on the sirenian situation. At the end of this page is a map showing their movements for the last week. Here also is a clip of the blog headings so you can see what is covered. Hint-laden note: there is a way to help this valuable research by means of adoption. You don’t get to keep one (or both) in the bath, of course, but you get a certificate and you will know you are helping to protect a species that is all too rare in the Bahamas

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RITA AND GEORGIE ARE RELEASED!

This blog was created to allow the public to follow two manatees, Rita and her calf Georgie, as scientists track them after their release back into the wild. Please return for weekly updates

NOTES FROM THE FIELD – WEEK 1
19-April-2012
At 10:30 am, Rita and Georgie arrived at the Great Harbour Cay Marina in Bullock’s Harbour on the Atlantis vessel Sea Keeper. High school students and interested locals had gathered at the marina for this exciting event. At 11:00 am, Dolphin Cay-Atlantis Animal Rescue Team carefully lowered Georgie into the water, and then Rita followed as quickly as possible. Both animals immediately paired up underwater and surfaced swimming towards the mangroves at the east end of the marina.
During the time of the release, two male manatees were observed in the marina and later paired up with the tagged animals. All four manatees were observed socialising as they slowly travelled out of the marina. Jim Reid (USGS) set up the VHF tracking gear and the tracking team started to track Rita and Georgie from land.
After a few detours through the bush, we found all four animals at the northern end of the T-canal; which is a ‘T’ shape cut in the harbour. We observed both males interacting with Rita while Georgie milled nearby. All four were seen feeding on algae on the canal wall. We left them at 4:30 PM.
20-April-2012
In the early morning, the juvenile male was seen in the marina and came very close to one of our vessels. The single animal remained in the harbor for more than 3 hours. This was a great opportunity for Matt McCoy (Loggerhead Productions) to get underwater footage of the juvenile male, which will be used in an educational film about ‘Manatees in The Bahamas.’
Rita and Georgie were later found in the marina but Rita’s tag was missing! Jim successfully placed a temporary tag on Rita and the original tag was found and later reattached. Kendria Ferguson (BMMRO) made acoustic recordings of both animals, which will be used to identify individuals from their vocalisations.
Later Jim collected genetic samples from both the adult and juvenile males. These samples will be used to determine if these individuals are both offspring of Gina and help to develop a family tree of Great Harbour Cay manatees.
21-April-2012
At 8:30 am GPS locations from the tags showed that Rita and Georgie were in Shark Creek along the west side of Great Harbour Cay, about 2 miles south of the harbour. When the tracking team arrived they found mother and calf both in good health and feeding on seagrass beds in the creek system.
22-April-2012  
With winds up to 20 knots the weather was not favorable for the tracking team to hit the open waters in search of Rita and Georgie so we decided to put up manatee warning signs. These signs were provided by Florida’s Save the Manatee Club, along with other educational material that will distribute throughout the island to raise awareness of the local population of manatees.
The tracking team was able to track them by land and both animals were found on the east side of the island swimming along the beach. The tracking team stayed with them for over 3 hours and monitored their breathing and movement patterns. We also got some underwater photos!!
23-April-2012
At 10:40 am local residents of Great Harbour Cay notified the “manatee lady” (Kendria) that four manatees were in front of the marina office. Gina and her calf JJ were both observed feeding on algae on the pilings and JJ was seen nursing occasionally. Both the adult male and juvenile male were there and remained close to Gina and JJ during their stay in the marina.
Jim was able to collect a genetic sample from JJ and also confirm that she is in fact a female calf. Both males continued to remain close and watched Jim constantly!
GPS locations from Rita and Georgie tags showed that they traveled as far south as Ambergris Cays. During the night, the tracking team closely monitored their movements as they were received via satellite. They entered Shark Creek shortly after 6pm from the west side of the island and remained there for approximately 5 hours. During this time, scientists believe that they were feeding and resting, as this area has extensive seagrass bed coverage. The tracking team continued to monitor their movements throughout the night and hoped that they turned to head back north very soon!
24-April-2012
At 4:30am, GPS locations showed that Rita and Georgie took ‘the channel’ cut and headed back north into the harbour of Great Harbour Cay.
At 8am we located both mother and calf under Al’s dock (our local fish provider). Both animals were resting and Georgie was observed nursing. The tracking team obtained photos, videos and acoustic recordings of both animals during this 3.5 hour encounter.
From their departure from the harbour early Sunday morning to their return Monday morning, they managed to complete a 50 mile trip around Great Harbour. A very happy ending to a very long journey!
25-April-2012
Rita and Georgie remained in the marina overnight and at 7:15am were found just a few houses down from the tag team’s home. Both animals swam towards our tracking vessel, “Feresa” and remained in the area for 15 minutes. Georgie has quite the personality! She began sucking on Feresa’s inflatable tubes and eating the algae off another inflatable boat a few feet away.
Both animals remained very close and traveled under the docks towards the end of the marina towards the mangroves. The local residents occasionally report seeing Gina and the other manatees at these mangroves and believe there is a fresh water discharge. This is also very close to the area of Rita and Georgie’s initial release back into the wild.
WEEK 1
‘An Awfully Big Adventure’ (© P.Pan)

WEST INDIAN MANATEES AND THE BAHAMAS: THE FACTS


Bahamas Manatee Gina (BMMRO)

WEST INDIAN MANATEES IN THE BAHAMAS

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

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

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

10 MEMORABLE MORSELS OF MANATEE MINUTIAE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                    Manatee Group                                                        Young Manatee                            

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

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

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

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

Florida Sea Park Manatee

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

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