The Caribbean Manatee: special post for the week of manatee conservation, Sept. 7 through Sept. 15, 2014.

Old school illustration

Old school illustration

In both AP Bio and 10 Bio, we’ve been discussing the fundamentals of life, which include a lot of chemistry.

But we’ll take a brief hiatus from the chemical context of life, to discuss an actual living being that benefits from water’s properties. This organism is the Caribbean Manatee:

Manatee worldwide distribution

Manatee worldwide distribution

Notice the pattern of distribution. What can you say in regards to this? What properties of water account for this distribution?

The antillean manatee (Trichechus manatus) is distributed in the green area, Puerto Rico included. These organisms are threatened by our own industrial exploits. Habitat depletion, water sport injuries, niche disruption, irresponsible tourism, hunting, illegal poaching… The lives of these gentle herbivores, mistaken for sirens during the early days of European colonization and conquest, have been tragic.

Notice the incredible amount of fat. AP Bio students: What is "fat"? What is its chemical nature? Why is it important for life?

Notice the incredible amount of fat. AP Bio students: What is “fat”? What is its chemical nature? Why is it important for life?

They look sad, innocent, almost saint-like. But we should not pity them. In fact, this elephant-like sea mammal is quite amazing:

“Manatees have sensitive tactile hairs that cover their bodies and face called vibrissae. Each individual hair is a vibrissal apparatus known as a follicle-sinus complex (FSC). Vibrissae are blood filled sinuses bound by a dense connective tissue capsule with sensitive nerve endings that provides haptic feedback to the manatee.

Usually vibrissae are found on the facial regions of terrestrial and non-sirenian aquatic animals and are called whiskers. Manatees, however, have vibrissae all over their body. The vibrissae located in their facial region are roughly 30 times denser than the vibrissae on the rest of their body. Their mouth consists of very mobile prehensile lips which are used for grasping food and objects. The vibrissae on these lips are turned outward during grasping and are used in locating vegetation. Their oral disk also contains vibrissae which have been classified as bristle-like hairs (BLH) that are used in non-grasping investigation of objects and food.

Research has found that manatee vibrissae are so sensitive that they are able to perform active touch discrimination of textures. Manatees also use their vibrissae to navigate the turbid waterways of their environment. Research has indicated that they are able to use these vibrissae to detect hydrodynamic stimuli in the same way that fish use their lateral line system.”

These haptic abilities—‘haptic’ means ‘touch’—provide manatees with almost superhero-like abilities to sense danger and food sources. They play the role of a ruminant in Caribbean waters, which means that they store lot of fat, they are slow, and their diets consist of plants (Thalassia, mangrove leaves, algae, etc.)

77 thoughts on “The Caribbean Manatee: special post for the week of manatee conservation, Sept. 7 through Sept. 15, 2014.

  1. Pingback: The Caribbean Manatee | Repeating Islands

  2. Currently in the Floridian “Three Springs” manatees’ are struggling to survive due to the lack of laws in the construction code in the area which has hampered the manatees’ sanctuary during winter. This in effect has provoked a substantial increase in manatee deaths due to the lack of warm springs to provide warmth and shelter in the winter months.

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    • What you just wrote links directly with what we said in class—that manatees need warm and shallow waters. They are tropical mammals.

      Do you know about Tony Croatto, the Italian singer-songwriter that became a puertorrican?

      Look for it on YouTube. It’s kind of corny, but the song has historical value: it opened people’s eyes to a beautiful animal that needs our help.

      Like

  3. Dr. Mignucci’s team work is important but at the same time difficult. For example they found it challenging to get a manatee’s temperature because of their nature. Because of this people working or treating manatees must be caring professionals willing to face this kinds of challenges.
    http://manatipr.org/destron-fearing/

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  4. Its really sad to know that this inoffensive animal almost stopped existing due to the irresponsibilities of human kind also the pollution and the damage we have caused to their habitat. In my opinion manatees are really smart creatures who have developed many advanced abilities in order to survive nowadays. We should focus more on preserving this animal than wasting our time doing things that are not important.

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    • It is possible that the common ancestor of the manatee was a land dwelling mammal that inhabited land masses that are right know in the southern hemisphere. Take the example of ostriches and emus, the share many similarities, and they live almost in the same latitude, which suggests that their common ancestor lived in land masses that today might be the eastern coast of southern South America, or the western coast of southern Africa.

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  5. The West Indian manatee has a very specific range of temperature it can withstand this being it cannot be in water below 66 F thanks to its low metabolic rate. For these reason the West Indian manatee stays in the tropics but in the map above there is a part of the Gulf of Mexico which is not included this is probably thanks to a dead zone in the area which doesn’t allow for mantees to be able to feed and/or deprives them of oxygen which causes death.For more information on the dead zone and how it causes the manatees death… http://www2.epa.gov/nutrientpollution/problem

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    • This problem stated in your link happens in every mayor city around the world. Algal blooms–or excessive growth of plant-life, thanks to water pollution–are very problematic; their effect in urban ecosystems is devastating. Fish, mammals, and other plants and algae, die by asphyxiation (the hyper-growth of algae consumes all oxygen). Unfortunately, not much is being done. If we continue to use our resources irresponsibly, we can expect many more extinctions.

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  6. I got the opportunity to visit the manatee conservation center at the Inter Bayamon this summer and was amazed at how intelligent these animals are. It is very sad that a lot of people don’t take the safety measures in boats and they end up harming this animal. In this link you can see the facillities of the conservation center and how well they are been taken care of.
    https://www.facebook.com/manatipr.org

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  7. Manatees are very intelligent animals, it is sad to see how they are endangered. These animals reproduce slowly and a manatee is born every two to five years. We should try to save this animals and be more careful.

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  8. Manatees are passive or non-aggressive, they help the environment by eating the underwater vegetation and later passing it back as a form of fertilizer. Human being can learn a lot from the demeanor of manatees to improve to help form a better world. Everything I’ve mentioned is explained by Jessica Robertson in this website:

    http://gallery.usgs.gov/audios/159#.VDltINEtDIU

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  9. Manatees consume very little energy when they move, therefore they have high reserves of fat which makes them really easy to kill. I found very interesting their snouts since it serves them as an advantage; they can predict what happens in the surface, and they know what they should eat. They’re four species of manatees and their all endangered, we should promote the life of this mammal and save them from extinction. http://nieonline.com/downloads/national_wildlife/wildlife/manatee.pdf

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  10. It is interesting the way nature works. A manatee’s snout is what helps them detect what they can and cannot eat. These creatures also have a type of hair, which covers their entire body, that gives them haptic abilities.

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  11. Manatees biggest threat comes from humans. We continue to destroy the natural environment and pollute the waters and this has lead to a significant number of them being killed in the past couple of years. We should create conscience in order to prevent this poor animals freom becoming exticnt.

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  12. Manatees have high risks of getting killed due to physical body which can give them a disadvantage and that they share waters with many boats that may hit them and kill them, this giving as a consequence the most probable endangering of the species, where their reproduction of a calf also plays a major role since it takes a full year of reproduction for a calf to be born. http://www.manatee-world.com/manatees-endangered/

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  13. Manatees are endangered because of boat collisions, entanglement in fishing gear, habitat loss, pollution, etc. Humans should be more aware of their survival problems and find a way to conserve this intelligent animal species.

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  14. Manatees are known by their slow and leisurely swimming. But actually, they are very nimble swimmers! This link has some facts and info about manatees: http://www.livescience.com/27405-manatees.html
    One of the facts that called my attention was: Manatees swim at about 3 to 5 mph (5 to 8 kph), but have been clocked swimming for short bursts at 19 mph (30 kph). They are agile swimmers that can somersault, roll and swim upside down.
    Aw, imagine that big blob doing a somersault!
    The saddest thing is that, despite manatees being the complete opposite of dangerous to us, humans are their main predators (on top of crocodiles!).

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  15. Manatees have been on the endangered list ever since the first list was approved in 1967. A factor that contributes to their threatened status is their lack of genetic diversity. The problems this brings up, like possible weakness and vulnerability towards diseases and inbreeding problems, add up to all the other human-caused threats these species face everyday in their struggle for survival. Their helplessness should serve as motivation for our help, and we shouldn’t disregard all the calls for help many organizations have made in the lookout for the well-being of this mammal.
    http://www.tampabay.com/news/environment/wildlife/lack-of-genetic-diversity-threatens-manatees-study-says/1266619

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    • The manatee struggle is a good opportunity to pool international efforts towards the preservation of, not just the manatee, but many other Caribbean ecosystem, such as our reefs, which are greatly endangered by the same antropogenic causes that are a threat to manatees.

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  16. Manatees are such passive and intelligent animals who are constantly threatened by us humans. These animals are completely defenseless and harmless as they pose no threats to us whatsoever. It is our fault they are endangered and we should do everything possible in helping them. If you want to learn more about the conservation of manatees go to the Save the Manatee Club, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the conservation of manatees.

    http://www.savethemanatee.org/

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  17. Manatees go to the surface of the water every three to five minutes to breathe although they can remain underwater longer, holding their breath for up to 20 minutes. When they do take a breath, 90 percent of the air in their lungs is replaced. Compared to humans this is a very big difference since humans only replace 10 percent of the air in their lungs.

    http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/14-fun-facts-about-manatees-180950308/

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  18. Manatees are perceived as fat, but in reality they have very little fat In their bodies. This is why they inhabit tropical areas with warm waters; they don’t have enough fat to keep themselves warm in cold waters. Most of their body is taken up by their gut tract, which is made up by their intestines and stomach. Another factor to their fat appearance is that sea grass, what they feed on, is a low nutritious plant. They make up the nutrition needed by ingesting large quantities of this plant.

    http://whale.wheelock.edu/archives/ask97/0341.html

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  19. From 1980 to 2012, at least 214 manatees died in Puerto Rico. These cases involve both natural and human-related deaths. About 37% of manatees died of natural causes, 26% die of human-related causes, and 36% of the causes are unknown mostly because bodies are found in advanced state of decomposition. Since the beaches and bays in Puerto Rico are areas where tourism is mostly abundant, lots of boats and other motor devices are responsible for the injuries or death of these manatees. My best friend is a volunteer worker in El Centro de Conservación de Manatíes de Puerto Rico, and she helped providing these facts about manatees:

    -They are the cousins of elephants.

    -In the Manatee Conservation Center, they feed the manatees with a diet of vegetables, since they are herbivores.

    -When a manatee in the conservation center is close to being released into the water, they change their diet to hydroponic plants.

    -The people in the manatee center made a special rig that goes underwater that baby bottles can attach to so that they can be able to feed the calves their milk without as much human interaction. This is because they are trying to lessen human interaction, because if they get used to human interaction, they will develop an attachment and will not be able to survive in the wild.

    Here is an image of the underwater manatee calf nurser they developed:

    http://imgur.com/5vO4uYb

    Source: http://www.fws.gov/caribbean/es/manatee_factsheet.html

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  20. I find it sad to see how human irresponsibility and ignorance can have such a devastating impact on such beautiful and important creature like the manatee. We need too take advantage of moments awareness to realized how we can make a difference in order to attempt to undo some of the damage that has been thrust upon these animals and many other endangered species. I mention other species because usually when a species goes extinct many other species (that are co-dependent with the one that has become extinct) do as well due to the unbalance in habitat, lack of food, etc. Keeping this in mind, with more and more species disappearing from Earth, and the different negative impacts it has on the planet, there will come a day when it is our turn to leave this planet and it will most likely be our own fault.

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  21. Human race is primaraly the cause that manatees are in extinction. We need to protect them for their future generations. It can be achieved by increasing public awareness and education although many people won’t give attention because of their ignorance.

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  22. Did you know that manatees used to be belived as mermaids?
    http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/columbus-mistakes-manatees-for-mermaids
    Manatees has never threatened humans, and they are in danger because of what us humans are doing. We have to be careful about what we do and how it affects the environment. Manatees are slow so they cant dodge out the way of the boats and since they live in shallow water, there are a lot of boats around where they live.
    https://www.dolphins.org/manatee_conservation

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    • Imagine arriving at a place that was believed to be Eden, paradise. Anything can happen in this world. So mermaids would be possible. It was not hard for Columbus—a deeply religious man, even though he was highly educated—to believe that manatees were mermaids.

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  23. Manatees are amazing mammals. Their powerful-sensing hairs called vibrissae help them detect food and danger. But, recently, we are being very ignorant and irresponsible. The irresponsible motor sports and tourism are killing these mammals and putting them in risk of extinction. We have to help these animals and any other animals to maintain a balance. As Gabriela said, one day it will be our turn to get extinct and we will be responsible for it. We have to make a difference, otherwise, negative consequences will affect not only us, but the rest of the planet. These manatees can only live here, in the warm waters of the Caribbean; they have nowhere else to go. Lets make a difference and help them out.

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  24. Manatees are seen in areas where there is a lot of movement, like boats. The oils these boats leave in the water can harm them and all the trash that people throw in the water can cause them harm too. In Puerto Rico, you see them close to the shore and they can be a easy target to kill since they are calm and swim at a slow speed. Since they only give birth every two to five years and they only have one calf at a time, they are close to becoming extinct.

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  25. Increasing numbers of Manatees are dying from toxoplasmosis, a disease spread by a parasite found in kitty litter. A pregnant manatee can ingest the parasite while swimming because tons of kitty litter are dumped in the ocean each year and transmit the disease to the unborn fetus.

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  26. Manatees are wonderful creatures, and it is a shame that they are almost dying out. While the manatee population has grown since efforts began to preserve it, there is still a long way to go. Last year, manatee mortality in Florida was at an all time high with 829 recorded deaths. Many of these could’ve been prevented if people had been a little more careful. It is important to educate others about manatees and what can be done to help them so that their impending extinction can be avoided.

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  27. We humans have already killed enough species as it is in the last century. Hopefully the manatee isn’t different. But even though their population being protected, it seems as if though they are still being killed off by carelessness. People don’t realize how important this is. The WWF estimates that between .01 to .1% of species become extinct every year, from 1,000 to 10,000 times the natural extinction rate. Just because it seems as though there hasn’t been any negative effects, does not mean there isn’t any now, or later. As much as we try to ignore it, there needs to be some widespread, effective wakeup call to stop this, which judging from today’s attitudes, will not happen until it’s far too late. Until then, it’s good to have these conservation awareness days or weeks, to at least somewhat bolster the conservation effort, and stop if not slow down, manatee’s, and other animals’ extinction.

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    • Extinction is one of the many ways Earth maintains homeostasis. It is natural. But since the XIX century, humanity has accelerated the natural rate of extinctions. And this a huge problem for all living things on this planet.

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  28. It’s a shame that these creatures are going extinct, we as humans should do more besides paying a couple of dollars when asked to “protect them”. We need to learn more about these creatures and make the changes necessary from inside out own homes, but not only for the manatees but for other animals including ourselves.

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  29. It is quite pathetic how humans who are at the top of the food chain don’t take more responsibility for the environment we live in. It is neat how now a days such a peaceful animal like the manatee is being cared for in different parts of the world but this single act of kindness does not excuse our continuous carelessness of the only world we know.

    http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/extinction-countdown/2013/01/04/fewer-manatee-deaths-in-2012-but-threats-remain/

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