Manatees

Quietly, but swiftly, the plump, dark animal glided across the waterwhile making sounds comparable to that of the squeaks and squeals of a whale(“Florida Manatee” 1).

Some would say these aquatic mammals are the ugliestthing below the surface, others would say that these animals are beautiful andresemble portly mermaids, but no matter what anybody says about the manatees,they are unique creatures (Ray and Ciampi 315). They are mammals that arecompletely harmless, they feed mostly on sea grass and sometimes smallunderwater creatures like shrimp (Berrill 212). It is a shame for thesecreatures to be on the endangered species list.Looking at the physical aspect, these animals are incredibly uncommon,and like no other creature on earth. These majestic beasts can float across thewater amazingly fast for its size (“Florida Manatee” 1). They can weigh up to aton, and get as long as fifteen feet. They are almost devoid of hair, except forsome whiskers on their face, and they have internal ears on the sides of theirhead.

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Their nostrils are closed by valves, so they can accomplish such feats asflips and quick turns without losing any air. Manatees have no hind legs, butinstead one big, flat, spatula-like tail (Sentman 327). This feature made peopleconfuse manatees with mermaids for nearly four centuries (O’Shea 66).Many biologists say that manatees possibly originated or evolved fromungulates such as elephants and cows because of the way that they are built, andcertain features that they have in common. Like elephants, manatees have thepeculiar half-moon shaped fingernails, and thick, wrinkled skin.

Manatees alsoshares some traits with cows. The way the manatees spend all day lazily grazingon the ocean floor is incredibly similar to the behavior of cows at a pasture(Breeden 58).Manatees eat an outrageous amount of food, they consume approximatelyten percent of their body weight daily. The large quantities that the manateeseat is another one of its unique qualities (“Florida Manatee” 1).

People use themanatees as natural “underwater lawn mowers”, setting them free in lakes thathave too much sea grass or plants. The manatees consequently eat up thevegetation, which frees up space to allow other wildlife to inhabit the lake.Manatees are also used to clear up canals and irrigation rivers that are cloggedwith an extreme amount of aquatic plants (“Manatee Facts” 1). The large diet canalso be a disadvantage. With the amount of vegetation in manatee habitatsdecreasing tremendously, the manatees are in danger of starving to extinction.The underwater plants do not survive because of man’s harmful deeds such aspollution, erosion caused by deforestation, and draining wetlands for thebuilding of coastal homes. Since the 1970’s, in Tampa Bay alone, eighty percentof sea-grass beds have vanished due to these causes (O’Shea 68).

Manatees can also be silly and clumsy at times, they have very badeyesight and do not have the attribute of sonar or echo location that someunderwater mammals have. This causes them to occasionally bump into largeunderwater rocks and other submerged objects. The poor navigational abilities ofthe manatee is an obvious disadvantage. A fast oncoming boat may not be seen bya manatee until it is too late (“Manatee Facts” 1).Manatees are mainly solitary animals, they graze alone and do not travelin groups. Although sometimes, manatees may be seen in temporary groups in whichthey will socialize, and leave at anytime. They communicate mostly using faintwhistles and squeaks, but some biologists speculate that they use scent marks tomark their location like some land mammals.

Newborn manatees will also stay withtheir mother for at least a year, and will recognize her for the rest of itslife. If needed, nursing females will adopt a manatee calf that is not its own(O’Shea 70). This type of social behavior shows that manatees are extremelypeaceful, and very friendly.They are also very agile animals, moving at the normal pace of fivemiles per hour. When provoked, they can burst to speeds exceeding fifteen milesper hour. They also can perform various feats such as barrel rolls, somersaults,head stands, and gliding upside-down (“Florida Manatee” 1).

On the most part,manatees can be found pasturing on the bottom of the ocean. They drift aroundvery slowly when doing this activity, and are usually unknowing of anything elsetaking place around them. This can leave them greatly vulnerable to poachers,and irresponsible boatmen (Berrill 212).There are three different types of manatees, the West African, Amazonean,and the Caribbean. The differences between the three are slight physical changes,and habitat. The larger, and more recognized of the three is the Caribbean orWest Indian manatee, which lives off the southeastern coast of the United States.

All three kinds of manatee species live in tropical or sub-tropical climates,and all three species have legends, or myths linked to them.The West African manatee is noted by a tribe in Mali, they thought thatkilling a manatee without permission from the gods would give them a curse, andonly trained wise-men could perform this task. The Caribbean manatee wasrecognized when Christopher Columbus sailed to the Indies, and described them asmermaids in his journal.

Lastly, the Amazonean manatee is noted by the CentralAmerican Siona Indians in a very unusual story. The Siona Indians believed thatan ancient god was deceived and trapped by a tapir, a horse-like animal. Thetapir then subjected the god to attack by piranhas. In revenge, the god turnedone of the tapir’s daughters to live forever in the water as a manatee (O’Shea68).

The manatees’ heritage can also be traced by its name. For instance,their mammalian order, Sirenia, is given that name because of the sound thatthey made (“Florida Manatee” 1). Sailors mistook their sounds for the sounds ofSirens, characters in Greek mythology who had the bodies of birds, and heads ofwomen. In the myth, the Sirens had such voices of sweetness that they luredsailors to drive their boat onto rocky shores (“Sirens” 1). Their name, manatee,comes from a Carib Indian word for a woman’s breast. This is because the nipplesof a female manatee are very prominent. They are located on the sides of themanatee, and it can be clearly seen from the surface (McClintock 45). Theircommon nickname, the sea cow, originates from an extinct species called theSteller’s Sea Cow.

The Steller’s Sea Cow is in the same family as the manatee,and used to inhabit the frigid waters of the Bering Sea. The sea cow name liveson, while the original sea cow does not (“Sea Cow” 1). The nickname was passedto the manatees because of their relation with real cows.

Unfortunately, the Manatees presently face many problems, even withprotective laws passed by the US government. Careless boaters are the manatees’worst enemy, countless occasions have resulted in the boat’s propellers slicingthrough the flesh of the manatee, and death usually occurred. If the victimmanatee did not die, then they have lifetime propeller scars on their back. Thisis a shame because it can be avoided very easily, and it happens to helplessanimals like the manatee. Other things kill manatees also, like herbicidal spray,flood control dams, and worst of all, illegal hunters. These present day killersmurder approximately 100 manatees a year (“Manatee Facts” 1).However, these numbers are minuscule, compared to the commercializedhunting of the manatees back in the late 1950’s. As a many as 7,000 manateeswere killed in a year because of this commercial hunting.

Fortunately thehunting slowed to a halt in the 1970’s because humans had begun to realize theimpact that they were having on the manatee population (O’Shea 68).Not considering humans, manatees have almost no natural predators, butsometimes manatees may be killed by what they eat. Manatees consume a wide rangeof aquatic plants, including algae, which may contain brevetoxin. Brevetoxin isa bacteria that kills many aquatic animals including fish, and apparentlymanatees. Brevetoxin is usually found in a type of reddish-brown algae calledthe red tide. Last July, the bacteria alone killed 304 manatees creating a newofficial record for most manatees killed in a year (“Toxin Killed Manatees” A18).Aside from Brevetoxin, the manatees only natural predator is its unawareness,they sometimes drift too far north, and get killed by the cold sea water.

Thisis a problem that whales and other large sea mammals also have to face. (O’Shea68)Having been studied seriously only since the mid 1900’s, manatees are afairly new creature in the science community. This is probably because thatmanatees are very timid creatures which makes them hard to analyze. Still, notmuch is known about the manatees to this present day.

We do not know basicfundamental facts such as where they go in the warmer climates, exactly how longthey live, and most importantly, precisely how many manatees are in existencetoday (Breeden 58). The lack of knowledge does not mean that steps are not beingtaken to study these animals. Recently, researchers attached satellitetransmitters to the manatee so that scientists can study their movement, andspeed. They have learned many new things from this study, such as that they cantravel up to fifty kilometers a day, and go back to a designated location everyseason.Further developments in manatee research will help in preventing theaccidental death of many of these animals. The research that scientists havelearned from the transmitters will help in regulating boat speeds in certainareas to avoid the propeller deaths of many manatees, thus decreasing the deathtoll. The research will also designate specialized places to guard manatees,these areas will be watched very carefully by the US Fish and Wildlife Service(O’Shea 71).Scientists have no clue as to the manatee population before thecommercialized hunting of the 1900’s, therefore, people do not know how large animpact man has made on the manatees.

Even without the statistics, or the exactnumbers of manatees killed by humans in the past, we still know that man hascaused most of these deaths (Breeden 58). Whether it be by hunting, oraccidental incidents, man is the manatees’ worst enemy. To the average person,manatees may not seem important but they are essential to many living things,including humans. Manatees have ch Category: Social Issues