?http://www.w3.org/TR/html4/loose.dtd> West Indian Manatee Part 4 by M. Timothy O'Keefe

Manatees Have Become
An Endangered Species

Boats, fishing nets and loss of habitat have all contributed to their decline.

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Sometimes a manatee's face can appear very sad, tired...almost as if the animal can foresee the fate that may await its species.

It is unfortunate the manatee is not more aggressive. Then they could have fought back against some of the harassment that has been inflicted on them.

Because of their tremendous size and strange looks, some people have felt compelled to spear them with pitchforks, blast them with shotguns, attack them with axes, carve their initials in them or deliberately run them down with boats.

The hunting of manatees for their meat has virtually disappeared. However, because of the years of hunting pressure, Antillean manatees behave differently than Florida manatees.

They do not feed in broad daylight like Florida manatees but prefer twilight, the dark of night or sunrise. They also tend to avoid humans more than Florida manatees.

Several factors are responsible for the decrease in West Indian manatees. The foremost is the loss of breeding and grazing grounds. Bays and estuaries once rich in the aquatic growth have been dredged and filled to add land for development.

Entanglement in fishing nets and collisions with boats are direct causes of mortality. As air-breathing mammals, manatees must surface periodically. Often it is only the tip of their nose that's exposed above the surface.

Consequently, boaters may be unaware of a manatee's presence and run over it. Or a manatee may be sleeping on the bottom in shallow water where it can't be seen.

In spite of its blubbery appearance, the manatee is a warm-blooded animal with only a partial layer of fat to insulate it. Any deep cut by a boat propeller is apt to be life threatening.

Manatees reproduce at a slow rate. Females produce a calf only every 4 to 5 years. Their gestation period is about 13 months, then they must spend the first two years of a calf's life teaching it survival skills, such as migratory patterns and the locations of seagrass beds.

Undisturbed, manatees can live for 50 to 60 years. The world's oldest captive manatee, Snooty, was born in Miami, FL, in 1948 and now lives in the South Florida Museum in Bradenton, FL.

Yet, manatees do seem to have acquired the charm of the sirens of old. Due to increased public awareness about the animals and their plight, many more people now care about them and want them protected.

Manatees deserve to be the mermaids of our modern age.

Return to West Indian Manatees Part 1

West Indian Manatee Part 2

West Indian Manatee Part 3

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