Curious Gentle Sea Cows
by: Davis Yancy Clegg
Perhaps, the most rewarding aspect of being on Amelia Island is the wildlife. The island is blessed to have such an array of species located in such close proximity to – if not on – the island. Everyone loves to see the wild horses out on Cumberland Island. They have a certain poise about them that sets them apart. The Egrets and exotic species of birds always make for a nice afternoon tracking birds. There is one friend that often pops up to say hello at the marina that always seems to trump the others. Every once in a while, a manatee will make an afternoon appearance down where the charter boats are tied up.
Considering personality alone, the manatee is a favorite among mammals. Evolved from four-legged mammals some 60 million years ago, the manatee’s closest known relative is the elephant. The manatee’s appearance is a very wrinkly and thick-skinned one. Often they will have really coarse whiskers as well. These large water dwellers can reach weights of up to 1200 lbs. and 10 feet in length. Most creatures of the deep have their own distinct physical features that help them to adapt to their needs. For example, the Manatee has a very large upper lip. It will use its over-sized lip to aid in feeding and to assist in communicating with other pups as well. The adults have no incisor or canine teeth. They are only equipped with “cheek” teeth. These are lost and replaced throughout the entire lifespan of the mammal.
Manatees are as lazy as they are cuddly. They will spend roughly half of every single day sleeping, only coming up for air in 20 minute intervals. They also seem to be a bit of a “loner” species. Unless they are following an interested female or among parents, they generally live life as a solo act. However, just because they are lazy doesn’t mean they are necessarily slow. An adult manatee can get up to 20mph in a short burst. Normally, they leisurely troll along between 3-5mph under normal circumstances. Like dolphins, manatees have proven to be very good with discriminating tasks and maintaining a long-term memory. During winter, manatees often congregate near the warm-water outflows of power plants along the coast of Florida instead of migrating south as they once did. Some conservations are concerned these manatees have become too reliant on these artificially warmed areas. Currently, scientists and research teams are hammering out new ways of warming the artificial environment.
Last surveyed in January of this year, the manatee population worldwide totaled in the neighborhood of 13,000. Nearly 6,500 of those documented are residents of Florida waters. A 2007 study conclusively showed the likelihood of the extinction of the Florida manatee if no additional protection is implemented for the species. Unfortunately, one of the manatee’s worst threats is its own curious nature. Coastal development has gotten the mammals even more curious than ever, and they are accidentally finding their way into trouble, colliding with large ships’ propellers. Due to a phenomenon call the Lloyds mirror effect, the manatee have much trouble discerning the low frequency sound of propellers near the water’s surface. While there isn’t much we can do about their curiosity, we can take the time to educate ourselves on their habits. Hopefully, such academic pursuit will lead us to solutions for their inhospitable environment that threatens still.
Our captains know the sweet springs where manatees love to hang out. Ask them on your next cruise. With some luck you might even spot one of these gentle creatures. (learn more…)