The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 12 No. 28 - April 25, 2012


Manatees help scientists do research


Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

Cindy Lane | Sun
A propeller-scarred manatee cruises in the Gulf of Mexico
off Anna Maria Island. Boaters are required to slow down
between the shoreline and the boating buoys to the speed
specified on the buoys for the safety of swimmers
and manatees.

Manatees are no dumb bunnies.

Hugh Manatee and Buffett, both Mote Marine Laboratory residents, are actually trained.

You won't see them doing flips or singing "Margaritaville," but they can touch a paddle with a flipper to answer a question, which is pretty amazing.

Even more remarkable is that by doing so, they are teaching their trainers more about their endangered species.

In a study published this month in the Journal of Experimental Biology, scientists say that the two marine mammals have demonstrated that their species can hear boat engines, which often mutilate their backs.

Most manatees, except for the very young, have scars from boats. Some die from their injuries; 88 manatees were killed by watercraft in Florida in 2011, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

For three years in a row, manatees have died in record numbers in Florida. At last count, in January 2011, 4,834 manatees were discovered in a two-day statewide survey, down from 5,076 the previous year.

So every bit of information that Mote can gather is important to saving Manatee County's namesake.

Researchers trained Hugh and Buffett to swim to a listening station about three feet below the water's surface and touch a paddle when they heard different sounds.

The manatees demonstrated that they could hear a wide range of sounds, although they had trouble hearing higher and lower frequencies over background noise.

Still, the scientists concluded that even with background noise, the manatees should be able to hear approaching boats, especially since sound travels faster and farther underwater than it does in the air.

They previously discovered that manatees have poor vision, and probably can't see boats coming.

So the next step is to investigate why they might not be hearing approaching boats.

Could manatees be sound sleepers or focused eaters or just habitual daydreamers?

Stay tuned; Hugh and Buffett will let us know.

Crystal River refuge threatened

Save the Manatee Club reports that the recreational boating group, Save Crystal River, is planning to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for adopting a rule making Kings Bay in Crystal River a manatee refuge.

The area is the winter home of more than 500 manatees, and contains the most important warm-water springs for manatees on the west coast of Florida, the club says.

Save Crystal River claims that the Marine Mammal Protection Act does not apply to state waters like Kings Bay, and says that "watersport activities, fishing and crabbing activities and recreational water use will be highly regulated year round."


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