Outline Thesis: Manatee does not have any natural predators in their environment, but humans are the unnatural predator that causes manatees to be endangered. Declining population is alarming and we need to do something to stop the decline. I. Introduction: My experience with a manatee at Sea World II. Columbus’s discovery A. Thought manatees were mermaids III.
History of the manatees A. Facts about manatees B. Declining population IV. What is happening to the manatees A. Causes of deaths among manatees V.
What has been done and what we can do to protect the manatees VI. Manatees are our guinea pigs Columbus’s Beauties It was my first encounter with the mysterious West Indian manatee at Sea World in San Diego. When I got the manatee’s attention by lightly tapping on the glass, he, like a bloated blimp, floated over to the glass to make eye contact. Thick glass separated me from this creature that I was seeing for the first time, but the gentle stare that penetrated the glass from the other side made the glass almost inexistent. His pink eyes were tiny compared to size of his colossal body, but they revealed a sense of gentleness about the creature.
His approach was gradual, but he seemed sweet and genuine. He looked like a huge seal with a flat face and a body that reminded me of a punching bag, both tough. When the manatee was glass distance away from me, the surface of the skin became visible, and I felt like I was looking at an elephant that had no ears and was able to swim. The resemblance in the skin was incredible, both animals having rough, leathery gray skin. The mimicry was a definite work of evolution.
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The bonding with my new friend did not last long, three minutes at the most, because I was not as important to him as his lunch A chunk of sea weed was dropped into the tank from above, and the manatee did not hesitate to jolt toward it. He seemed to view the food as a lonesome traveler would view a water source in the middle of the dessert, sacred. After finishing lunch, the graceful manatee proceeded to pick a spot in the corner of the tank and lazily continued his afternoon. A manatee is not a well known animal, in fact, many of us probably never heard of such a creature. The first encounter with the manatee is believed to have occurred between the manatee and Christopher Columbus. When traveling in 1493, Columbus sited in the New World waters three creatures that he believed were mermaids.
But in fact, “they were not the wondrous bare-breasted, fish tailed temptations of every ancient mariner’s dream. They were manatees.” (Fichtner).
Columbus made an entry in his journal regarding his encounter with the ‘mermaids’ that stated “They were not as beautiful as they are painted, since in some ways they have a face like a man.” (Fichtner).
It’s difficult for me to comprehend how a 1200 pound creature could be mistaken for a mystical mermaid, and presumably a person today would not come to that conclusion after making the same observations as Columbus did, but it’s very likely that we would not know what creature was in front of us. It is believed that Proto siren, which is an ancestor of the manatee, emerged about 50 million years ago, and today the product of Proto sirens, the manatee still exist (Fichtner).
Manatees are not fish, but marine animals (U.
A West Indian manatee looks like a very large walrus with a body that is full in the middle and narrows to a paddle shaped tail. It’s about ten feet long on average, and approximately 1200 lbs. , but can grow up to 3500 pounds. Unlike many other animals, female manatees are generally larger than males (Sea World).
These massive animals have agile forelimbs that have three to four toe nails on each, which they use to swim in the shallow water that they reside in. Manatees have very sensitive skin that reacts to touch by changing the its shape or by contracting. The peculiar lips of the manatees aid in movement as well as food consumption (Bragg).
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Manatees reach their breeding maturity between three and ten years of age and have an approximate gestation period of thirteen months. According to Donna Carey, a manatee researcher, West Indian manatees spend most of their days feeding along the water bottoms. She remarks “These herbavoric creatures, meaning that they eat plants, usually eat ten percent of their body weight daily.” (Carey).
An educator at Sea World consents with Donna’s information about the feeding habits of manatees and also provides me with the actual menu for manatees residing at Sea World in San Diego. “The West Indian manatees here at Sea World dine on a couple of baskets of monkey chow, eight cases of lettuce, five trays of hydroponically grown grasses, bananas, apples, cabbages and vitamins.” (Chris).
How appetizing! These puzzling creatures spend most of their lives moving between freshwater, brackish, and saltwater environments, but the West Indian Manatees mostly reside in Crystal River waters of Southern Florida (U. S.
A manatee is one of the most harmless and helpless marine mammals that live today. And yet, it is on our endangered species list. There are only about 1900 West Indian manatees left in the world today, and that number is rapidly decreasing (Sea World).
According to a brochure published by Sea World, there have been one hundred and twenty manatee deaths in 1987 and two hundred and eighteen in 1990 (Sea World).
These numbers seem to be tragic considering that there are only 1900 of these creatures left. I figured out that if the death rates remain constant, the manatee population will be wiped out in less then nine years. So what is happening to all these manatees one might ask. The answer is sad: we humans are the primary killers of the manatee race. Historically, manatees were hunted for flesh, bones, and hide by Native Americans and later by the early colonists.
Manatee fat was used for lamp oil, bones were used for medicinal purposes, and hide for leather (U. S. ).
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This kind of hunting, is believed to have begun the initial decline of the manatee population, but today the decline is due to different factors.
The main cause of manatee deaths is due to speeding boats. Speeding boats run over many manatees that are submerged just below the surface, killing them by either impact with the boat itself, or by slicing into their backs with propellers (U. S. ) If a manatee is not fatally sliced by the propeller of the boat, it may die from internal injuries, or survive with deep scars to remind them of the nearly mortal accident with a reckless human. Boats account for about 26% of deaths among the manatees. It was documented in the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s catalog that power boats outnumber manatees 600 to one (Fichtner).
This disturbing fact makes me wonder why we don’t have any laws that would help us control the numbers of boats in areas with large manatee populations. Humans also put manatees in danger when closing flood gates and canal locks. Numerous manatees have been crushed by these closing flood gates (U. S. ).
As if the boats weren’t a powerful enough murder weapon against these innocent animals, our fisherman are negligent with their fishing nets and lines which cause many of the manatees to die. They may swallow these fishing nets which will get tangled up in the tracts of the animal, or a fishing line may become tightly wound around a flipper and create serious infections or even death (U. S. ).
Most of these causes are more or less accidental even though preventable, but what disgusts me the most is when fishermen, skin divers, and boaters purposely harass these animals and purposely interrupt feeding and mating activities of the manatees (U. S.
How sadistic can a person get I was always taught to never do things that I would not want others to do to me, and in this case I highly doubt that these harassers would want that type of behavior imposed on them. Efforts to protect the West Indian manatees have been underway since 1893, when the lawmakers in Florida passed the state’s first manatee-conservation law in order to protect these delicate creatures. Today, manatees are protected by the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act of 1978, which labels Florida as a manatee haven and permits the establishment and enforcements of boat-speed regulations in manatee habitats (Fichtner).
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Manatees are also protected by federal laws in Florida that prohibit hunting, capturing, killing, or harassing these animals.
These laws include the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 and the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (Bertram).
The official authorities are not the only ones that can do something to protect these fragile mermaid. Save the Manatee Club was formed by ordinary people like us in order to conserve the manatees. Started by a single person in 1981, this non-profit organization is now 20, 000 members rich. It seems like there has been numerous actions taken by the authorities to protect this diminishing species, but why are there still so many manatees dying each year It took me a while to come up with two hypotheses to help me answer that question, and I think that I am on the right track. When doing research about what has been done to protect manatees I came across a number of laws that have been passed, but not in one piece of information have I found anything on what kind of punishments are enforced on people who break these laws.
It’s easy to put things on paper and say that they are laws, but it’s a totally different to actually impose these laws. My other hypothesis is that people act in a boomerang effect. That is when “people react to laws by behaving in the opposite direction from that desired by those trying to socially influence them.” (Akert).
It’s difficult not to ask a question like “Why save the manatees” when one is faced with the problem of manatee endangerment.
At first glance it seems that we do not have any benefits from the manatees, and honestly, we don’t have any direct benefits from these creatures, but the underlying gains are amazing. A manatee is like a guinea pig. It tests out the water for us humans. If a manatee cannot survive in water, you and I can’t either.
The natural seagrass beds upon which the manatees feed are being engulfed by pollution from herbicides, and surface run off (Fit chner).
Through out Florida, swimmers and fishermen have taken over what was once the manatees’ native territory. Manatee mortality is going up and so is human mortality on the waterways of Florida (Fichtner).
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The guinea pigs are not surviving, and we may not either. It is time that we took responsibility for our actions, and began respecting other living creatures; not necessarily because we benefit from them, but just because they make our planet diverse. I found a quote by B.
Dio um which I think very well summarizes our mentality, “For in the end we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught.” (Sea World).
So the next time you are out on a boat and going above the speed limit, not only are you threatening your life, but also lives of manatees: defenseless, natural-born losers that cannot fight back.
Sources Cited Akert, M. Robinson, Elliot Aronson, and Timothy D. Wilson. Social Psychology. 3 rd ed. New York: Longman, 1998.
Bertram, Colin. In Search of Mermaids. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1963. Bragg, Michael T. “Manatees Facts and Information.” 2 Mar.
2000. web Carey, Donna. Telephone interview. 8 Mar. 2000. Chris.
Telephone interview. 8 Mar. 2000. Fichtner, Margarita. “Lost at Sea” Life Science Dec. 1989: pp.
1 G+. SIRS, 1990. Art. 25. Sea World Education Department Publication. “Manatees.” 1992.
U. S. Department of the Interior. West Indian Manatee, 1995..