Manatee Appreciation Day – Wednesday 27th March 2019
There are three species: the Amazonian manatee (Trichechus inunguis), the West Indian manatee (T. manatus) and the West African manatee (T. senegalensis). They are in the order Sirenia along with dugongs, and their closest relatives are elephants. The West Indian and West African manatees live in rivers, bays, canals, estuaries and coastal areas rich in seagrass and other vegetation. They can live in fresh, salt and brackish waters.
All manatees and dugongs are listed as vulnerable by the IUCN. Their populations are decreasing due to boat collisions, habitat destruction and toxic red tides.
Cute and Cuddly
Slow-moving and round, manatees spend half of the day munching on sea grass, algae and mangrove leaves. They look cuddly and gentle, and they look like they’re in need of a hug (don’t approach them for one though – uninvited contact can distress the animal. And it’s illegal – punishable by up to six months in jail and a $500 fine). On the other hand, if you’re lucky enough to be approached by a manatee, that would be okay and it would be rude to ignore it.
Underwater photographer, Alex Mustard, had this to say about this encounter with a baby manatee:
“It’s an itchy life for a manatee, and the ones living in Florida’s Crystal River have learned that getting a stroke or a scratch from a person is far more effective than rubbing against a rotten log! The youngsters – like this one – are often highly social and once they’ve discovered the benefits of a good scratcher, they’ll come back again and again. They demonstrate a clear ability to recognize individual people in the water. The snorkelers, for their part, are directed to only touch manatees with one hand – this way it’s impossible to grab hold of the rotund mammals and therefore the interaction remains solely on the manatee’s terms. Manatees live in the ocean and close to freshwater springs across Florida, but it’s only in Crystal River where snorkelers are allowed to swim with these protected animals.”