MANATEE AWARENESS MONTH (& BABY TALK)


Rita the Mantee & her new baby. Bahamas (BMMRO)

MANATEE AWARENESS MONTH (& BABY TALK)

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. 

Manatee Awareness Graphic (Peppermint Narwhal)

Rita and her recently born daughter – Kamalame, AndrosRita the Mantee & her new baby. Bahamas (BMMRO)

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…

manatee-galleon-bay-canal-tc-abaco-feb-2007-kelley-niedoba

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.

Bahamas Manatee sightings infographic (BMMRO / Felice Knowles)

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). 

Waiting for a name…Rita the Mantee & her new baby. Bahamas (BMMRO)

RELATED LINKS

BAHAMAS MANATEE CLUB (BMMRO)

BAHAMAS MANATEES: GINA’S GOOD NEWS

BAHAMAS MANATEES: A SHORT HISTORY 1904 – 2015

WEST INDIAN MANATEES (RH PAGE)

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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.

mantsw~1

MANATEES IN THE BAHAMAS: A SHORT HISTORY 1904-2015


Bahamas Manatee Randy 2 (BMMRO)

West Indian Manatee Randy, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas

MANATEES IN THE BAHAMAS: A SHORT HISTORY 1904-2015

Felice Leanne Knowles of the Bahamas Manatee Club has 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 IDBahamas Manatee Randy, Sandy Point Abaco 2 (BMMRO)Bahamas Manatee Randy's notched paddle (BMMRO)

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“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 calvesBahamas Manatee Gina & Calf (BMMRO)

Gina with her newest calf, photographed recently in EleutheraBahamas Manatee Gina & calf, Eleuthera (The Front Porch)

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, AbacoGeorgie the Manatee, Cherokee, Abaco DSC_0009-001

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 moodBahamas Manatee Randy (BMMRO)

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 backBahamas Manatee, Marsh harbour Abaco. No ID. (BMMRO)

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 sensesBahamas Manatee Gina (BMMRO)

“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”.”

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Props to Felice, Bahamas Manatee Club , BMMRO and ‘The Front Porch’, Eleuthera

BAHAMAS MANATEES: GINA’S GOOD NEWS FOR 2015


Tm_Gina&JJWest Indian Manatee mother & calf, Bahamas - Gina & JJ

Manatee Gina with her weaned calf JJ

BAHAMAS MANATEES: GINA’S GOOD NEWS FOR 2015

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 found HERE

West Indian Manatee mother & calf, Bahamas - Gina & JJ - weaning

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 West Indian Manatee mother & calf, Bahamas - Gina & JJ - nursing

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 sideGina the Manatee 1

Coming atcher…Gina the Manatee 3

Tell-tale signs (to experts, anyway) of advanced pregnancyGina the Manatee 2

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.

Dana & Trish greeting Georgie Manatee

Credits: All photos and primary fount of Bahamas manatee knowledge: BMMRO; Magpie Pickings

mantsw~1