Posts Tagged 'manatees'

Did you know? Today is Manatee Appreciation Day!

Sometimes called sea cows, manatees are a large, but graceful, endangered species that thrive in warm-water environments ripe with vegetation. The West Indian manatee, one of three living species, can be spotted off the coast of Florida year round.

manatee

Here are ten things you may not know about manatees! 

  1.  Manatees are a migratory species, sometimes traveling up the East Coast in the warmer summer months—some have even been spotted in Maryland.
  2. These herbivores feed on patches of vegetation on the sea floor and can eat up to 1/10 of their body weight in just one day!
  3. With a diet sometimes rich in sand, Manatees’ teeth are made for grinding, not biting, and are constantly being replaced.
  4. Some waterways in Florida have manatee “speed zones” to protect these gentle creatures from boat collisions, one of the leading causes of injury and death in manatees.
  5. Manatees’ closest living relatives are elephants and hyraxes, small mammals found in Africa and the Middle East.
  6. Slow moving, manatees typically travel at about 5 miles per hour but have been known to swim faster in short bursts.
  7. Some manatee species can travel freely between salt and freshwater.
  8. Manatees have to visit the surface for air, but can stay underwater for up to 20 minutes while at rest.
  9. Manatee calves are dependent on their mothers for up to two years. When a calf is born, its mother must help it to the surface for air, but most can swim on their own shortly after birth.
  10. It is believed that the legendary “mermaids” spotted by sailors throughout history were actually manatees.

Being the gentle, slow-moving animals that they are have put manatees at risk of extinction in the face of oil spills, increased motorboat traffic and entanglement. These animals were first listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1967 and their population numbers have increased in recent years, but there is still much work to do protect manatees and the habitats they depend on.

To learn more about how to get involved in manatee conservation efforts in here in the United States, click here

A Blue View: A Devastating Year for Manatees

A Blue View is a weekly perspective on the life aquatic, hosted by National Aquarium CEO John Racanelli.

From the smallest plants and animals invisible to the human eye to entire ecosystems, every living thing depends on and is intricately linked by water.

Tune in to 88.1 WYPR every Tuesday at 5:45 pm as John brings to the surface important issues and fascinating discoveries making waves in the world today.

May 15, 2013: A Devastating Year for Manatees

A Blue View podcast

Click here to listen to John discuss the issues
facing manatee populations in Florida.

Gentle giants with few enemies, manatee populations have nonetheless long been threatened. The species has been on the federal endangered species list since 1967, when the list was created, and has been protected by Florida state law since 1893. Thanks to this, manatee populations have grown in recent years.

Typically, manatee deaths and injuries are associated with boat strikes. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find a manatee without tell-tale propeller scars. But this year, a particularly aggressive red tide along Florida’s southwest coast has killed more than 265 manatees. Combined with other causes of death, more than 580 manatees have died out of an estimated population of 5,000—a staggering number that has erased those recent population gains.

Red tide is an algae bloom that occurs naturally every year, though the 2013 bloom has proven to be more deadly than any previous year on record. Characterized most often by a red discoloration of the water, the algae produces toxins that affect the nervous system of vertebrates. These toxins can settle on sea grass and blow through the air when waves break the algae apart. Since manatees eat up to 100 pounds of sea grass per day, this can have devastating effects.

Symptoms of red tide toxicity in manatees include muscle twitching, lack of coordination, difficulty breathing, and seizures, but they aren’t the only ones affected. It can also cause human respiratory distress, shellfish poisoning, and the deaths of other marine mammals, fish, and turtles.

So what can be done? The truth is, when red tide strikes, little can be done besides just waiting it out. Florida state wildlife officials believe that this year’s red tide is subsiding, but the effects of the bloom are likely to be seen over the next weeks and months, resulting in more deaths.

Several facilities in Florida are equipped to handle critical care of manatees, but the Lowry Park Zoo’s Manatee Hospital is the only one rehabilitating red tide patients. Not many have been rescued, though every life saved is a victory for this endangered species.

manatee

A manatee in rehabilitation at Lowry Park Zoo.

To date, 13 manatees with red tide toxicity have been admitted to the hospital for care. Staff members monitor each sick manatee around the clock until the danger has passed, holding up the manatee’s head so it can breathe. Once out of the red tide environment, manatees recover fairly quickly. Unfortunately, there really isn’t anywhere for them to go.

Manatees are migratory animals, and staff at the hospital don’t want to release their patients only to have them wind up in danger again. They are working with state and federal partners to determine when the manatees can be safely returned to the open waters.

Efforts are ongoing to understand why this year’s red tide bloom was so toxic and long-lasting. An uncommonly mild winter most likely contributed because the algae bloom didn’t die off as quickly as normal. Manatees swam right into the red tide in their search for warmer waters. There’s also speculation that phosphorus runoff from farms and lawns are been a factor in the red tide’s severity. The hope is that as scientists better understand the reasons behind this extraordinary red tide event, the lessons learned can better prepare us for the next time, and more manatees can be saved.


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