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 (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…)
MANATEES: CONSERVATION, AWARENESS PROGRAMS & DISTRIBUTION MAP
The “SAVE THE MANATEE CLUB”is a very active organisation that I have mentioned in previous manatee posts. These gentle creatures are in need of protection, and much effective conservation work is in progress. The BMMRO‘s wonderful work for the MANATEES OF THE BERRY ISLES is featured in this blog because of the proximity to Abaco (might those manatees visit one day?) – and of course because BMMRO HQ is at Sandy Point.
[ADDED 25 SEPT]…and lo, just as I pressed the ‘publish’ button, the BMMRO posted this news:
Georgie is currently exploring the Abacos. Help us monitor her movement patterns by reporting sightings!!
“Earlier this year we tagged & released 2 West Indian manatees in Great Harbour Cay, Berry Islands. These were the same manatees from Spanish Wells that were captured after they swam to Nassau when hurricane Irene passed in late August 2011. After release at Great Harbour Cay in May 2012, they explored most of the Berry Islands but centered their use around Great Harbour. In September one of these manatees, a young female named Georgie, swam from the Berrys to Abaco, has traveled within The Marls, north towards Little Abaco & is now traveling south on the eastern side of Abaco. We received a sighting of her on 23 September at the Green Turtle Cay Ferry landing, just north of Treasure Cay. We anticipate she will continue to travel south and may venture into marinas and harbours along the way. We would like to make the public aware of her presence in the area. Although we believe she is in good health and is exploring new areas, the tag is not functioning properly now so sightings from the public will help us locate and monitor her progress. If possible, please share with anyone in the Abaco area or make an announcement encouraging people that see her to report any sightings”
[ORIGINAL POST CONTINUES] The SMC is a Florida-based organisation and it recently posted a new cheerful cover picture by Natalie Prayor on itsFACEBOOK PAGE. I have recently noticed some searches on the blog such as ‘Manatees facts for Kids’, so this post might be helpful. You could even (I can’t believe I even thought of checking this out!) knit one… Want a pattern? Click HEREIn fact, I might even…
To see more of Natalie’s artwork, just search ‘Natalie Prayor in Facebook. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
The SMC also posts Manatee facts and advice, from which I have selected the examples shown below
This map shows the world distribution of the 4 extant sirenian branches as well as the extinct STELLER’S SEA COW of the north Pacific. It is a melancholy fact that by 1768, a mere 27 years after its discovery by Europeans, this slow-moving, tame and easily-captured sea cow was hunted to extinction. 250 years on, the world’s sirenian population remains vulnerable and, as with whales and dolphins, in need of active monitoring and protection measures
Finally, I liked this manatee cartoon from Rachel Arnow, with its incongruous and enjoyably unfeasible suggestion of manatees in Loch Ness. Rachel has a great sirenian-centric website http://mvsm.omnomzom.com/ featuring her excellent and charming cartoon series “MAN VERSUS MANATEE”.