Aka West Indian Manatee. I've been a number of places where these occur, but had always been unlucky, so this meeting was a lifetime ambition achieved! This friendly gentle giant was hoping to be fed another handful grass. On average adults weigh around 550 kg (1,200 lb) and are 3.0 m (9.8 ft) in length. Originally manatees were placed in the ponds in 1885, they have lived an independent existence there ever since.
Botanical Gardens, Georgetown, Guyana, South America.
Individuo adulto, solitario. Aparentemente estaba buscando frutos de mango (Mangifera indica) para alimentarse.
This photo is from Three Sisters Spring. Although the waterway around it has hard edges and is heavily developed with houses (check the Google satellite view), the springs are still wooded and there is a roped-off section where visitors should not intrude. (Again, if you look at the Google satellite view on my marker, you can actually see the buoys and manatee-shaped blobs congregating within the safe zone.) There are manatees in the channel, however, and we saw tens moving out away from the springs as the day heated up. There are posted rules of manatee interactions, all visitors are required to watch a FWS video before entering the area, and human-watchers in kayaks who remind folks of the rules. A few manatees have attached GPS tags with floats (you can see one of them in the third photo), attached by either USGS or the NGO, Sea to Shore Alliance. We were on a boat with Buddy Powell, founder of Sea to Shore, who also grew up just a few water blocks away.
Right as I entered the water, a manatee swam toward me and it was an intense feeling. Seeing its eyes, the details of its skin. Although I later would see that this individual was not full-sized and I mentally knew that manatees aren't a danger to humans, it was also intimidating to share space with a wild animal of that girth. That respect of space isn't often broached by either me or wild animals. However amazing it is to see manatees underwater, it also made me a little anxious about the interaction. I put my hands up before it could bump into me (to which the kayaker watchman scolded me, "one hand! one hand!"--which is the rule) and the motion made the manatee turn away. Later, the same individual (I assume) snuffled my flippers as I stood flat-footed and I had to curl my toes in so it wouldn't graze my toenails.
I kicked myself afterward for not finding an underwater case for my camera. Not only for the manatees, but also for the other wildlife of Three Sisters. You can snorkel up the flowing outlet to the springs, and there were beautiful bass, needle-shaped fish and others in the crystal clear water. In an experience that almost rivaled the manatees, I watched an anhinga from about 6 meters away above and underwater as it hunted and successfully caught fish in the overhanging tree roots. That was amazing! If you're going to Crystal River to naturalise in the water, please get an underwater camera!
Manatee snuffling up to a boat motor. Another with the marks of a less positive motor interaction. 1876 manatee deaths were documented from 1974-2011 due to watercraft. In recent years, it seems like it has been about 70-100 manatee deaths per year due to watercraft.
At Manatee Park. There were at least four in this inlet.
About 5 manatees at the mouth of the spring/creek. As exciting as watching manatees can get, they started moving and swam right past the pier.
Juvenile in 3 Sisters Springs.
Brevard County, Florida
The West Indian manatee (Trichechus manatus) is a manatee, and the largest surviving member of the aquatic mammal order Sirenia (which also includes the dugong and the extinct Steller's sea cow).
The West Indian manatee is a species distinct from the Amazonian manatee (T. inunguis), and the African manatee (T. senegalensis). Based on genetic and morphological studies, the West Indian manatee is divided into two subspecies, the Florida manatee (T. m. latirostris) and the Antillean or Caribbean manatee (T. m. manatus). However, recent genetic (mtDNA) research suggests that the West Indian manatee actually falls out into three groups, which are more or less geographically distributed as: (1) Florida and the Greater Antilles; (2) Central and Northern South America; and (3) Northeastern South America.
Like other manatees, the West Indian manatee has adapted fully to an aquatic life style, having no hind limbs. Pelage cover is sparsely distributed across the body, which may play a role in reducing the build-up of algae on their thick skin. The average West Indian manatee is approximately 2.7–3.5 m (8.9–11 ft) long and weighs 200–600 kg (440–1,300 lb), with females generally larger than males. The largest individual on record weighed 1,655 kg (3,650 lb) and measured 4.6 m (15 ft) long. This manatee's color is gray or brown. Its flippers also have either 3 or 4 nails so it can hold its food as it is eating.
As its name implies, the West Indian manatee lives in the West Indies, or Caribbean, generally in shallow coastal areas. However, it is known to withstand large changes in water salinity, and so has also been found in shallow rivers and estuaries. It can live in fresh water, saline water, and even brackish water. It is limited to the tropics and subtropics due to an extremely low metabolic rate and lack of a thick layer of insulating body fat. While this is a regularly occurring species along coastal, southern Florida, during summer this large mammal has even been found as far north as Dennis, Massachusetts and as far west as Texas.
The Florida manatee (Trichechus manatus latirostris), a subspecies of the West Indian manatee, is the largest of all living sirenians. Florida manatees inhabit the most northern limit of sirenian habitat. Over three decades of research by universities, governmental agencies, and NGOs, has contributed to our understanding of Florida manatee ecology and behavior, which is more than we know about any other sirenian species. They are found in fresh water rivers, in estuaries, and in the coastal waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. Females usually have their first calf when they are about 7 or 8 years old. Normally they only have one calf every three years because manatees nurse their calf for 1 or 2 years, but there are rare occurrences of twins. When a calf is born, they usually weigh between 60 and 70 pounds and are between 4 and 4.5 feet. The family unit consists of mother and calf, which remain together for up to 2 years. Males aggregate in mating herds around a female when she is ready to conceive, but contribute no parental care to the calf. Florida manatees may live to be greater than 60 years old in the wild, and one captive manatee -- "Snooty" Snooty -- has lived for 63 years. In captivity, West Indian Manatees live up to 28 years. The biggest single threat to Florida manatees is death from collisions with recreational watercraft. Large concentrations of Florida manatees are located in the Crystal River area and also Wakulla Springs regions in central and north Florida. The best time to see the Wakulla Springs manatees are in November and December, and in the spring for the Crystal River manatees.
The other subspecies of the West Indian manatee is sometimes referred to as the Antillean manatee (Trichechus manatus manatus). Antillean manatees are sparsely distributed throughout the Caribbean and the Northwestern Atlantic Ocean, from Mexico, east to the Greater Antilles, and south to Brazil. They are found in French Guiana, Suriname, Guyana, Trinidad (however there has been a lack of recent sightings), Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, Belize, Mexico, Trinidad, Cuba, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico. Historically, Antillean manatees were hunted by local natives and sold to European explorers for food. Today, they are threatened by loss of habitat, poaching, entanglement with fishing gear, and increased boating activity. Several of Sirenian International's scientists study Antillean manatees in Belize, which may be the last stronghold for the subspecies. Funds for research, education, and conservation projects are desperately needed in other Central American nations.