The Florida manatee is part of the species Trichechus manatus latirostris and their closest relative on earth now is the elephant. Florida manatees are part of the scientific order Sirenia and the family Trichechidae. They are a migratory species and move from ocean waters of Brazil to those of the Gulf of Mexico. The shift due to climate change has caused them to migrate further north.
They have a low basal metabolism causing them to move slowly as they look for warm water such as the warm natural spring fed rivers of Florida (Reynolds & Clay 2000), the warm water effluent from industries, or the cooling canals of power plants (Smith 2007). Their low metabolism causes them to move to warmer waters when the water temperatures drop to 68∘F (Stewart 1999).
Manatees have been found to put the advantages of warm water above the hazards of boats. Low speed zone areas for boats have been implemented. Boaters for the most part cooperate with speed zone laws. A poll of boaters said 90% enjoy boating just as much even with the low speed zone law (Wright 2011). Even when not killed outright the injuries they receive from propeller-driven boats. (Reynolds and Clay).
Those that have been captured for tag and release have been found to have bad scars from collision with boats that they have survived.
Other factors endangering the Florida manatee are red algae blooms, moving further away from their natural habits (Smith 2009) and swimming in oil polluted waters from oil rig accidents (Whittey 2010).
The Florida manatee with the scientific species name of Trichechus manatus latirostris, the order Sirenia and the family Trichechidae. In contemporary times their closest relative on earth is the elephant. Florida manatees are part of the scientific order Sirenia and the family Trichechidae. On average adults weigh about 440 kg with a length of 4 to 5 meters. Stewart (1999) reports, “A typical adult Florida manatee is 10 feet long and weighs half a ton, but some are three times as heavy.” The contemporary elephant and manatee share a common ancestor (Smith 2009). The manatee does not have fur, external ears and it has very small eyes.
Manatees traveling north from the coastal areas of Brazil and the seas south of North America are usually called the Florida manatee and also known as the American West Indian manatee. Manatees are a migratory species that winter the warm natural springs of Florida. They also enjoy the warmth at artificial areas of warmth in the cooling canals of power plants and the effluent of paper pulping industries (Rathbun & Wallace 2000). They can live in fresh, brackish or salty coastline waters (Stewart 1999).
hey have a low basal metabolism (cold-blooded) so when the temperature drops in the water they look for warm water such as the warm Florida waters, the warm water effluent from industries, or the cooling canals of power plants (Smith 2007). Their low metabolism causes them to move to warmer waters when the water temperatures drop to 68∘F (Stewart 1999). Two problems from situating themselves in the warm effluent of industry is that the water temperature at those site may drop then the manatees body temperature and there is the danger the mammals will die from hypothermia. Their natural habitat is in waters along the coastlines, estuaries and inland waters. When they find warm water to do manmade processes they do not feel the usual seasonal changes so the disruption of their natural behavior is a threat along with the threat of hypothermia (Rathbun & Wallace 2000). Many of the manmade warm water sources have closed or will be closing. Hauserman (2007) reports, “80% of the state’s manatees rely largely on water warmed by discharges of electric-generating power plants located on both coasts.”
Boating and Manatees
The Florida Fish and Wildlife reported that out to 699 manatee deaths in 2010, 97 were due to “boats or some other watercraft” (Ricciardi 2011). The deaths recorded in 2009 of 429 manatee were double that of 2008.
Because the natural habitats of the manatee are places also impacted by commercial development, local tourism and tourism in general the manatee population is negatively impacted by the human activities especially boating. Protecting manatees from boating accidents has been a focus of policy makers in cities and regions of Southern Florida. Some of the policy has been successful there are always improvements to be made. Propeller driven boats cause the biggest threat report Reynolds and Clay (2011). Stewart (2009) reports that the mammals, “tendency to swim at or near the surface close to land results in more than 100 manatee deaths annually in collisions with boats.”
Ed Gerstein questions the folk wisdom that manatee have collisions with boats because they are too slow to move out of the way. He is the director of marine mammal research at Florida Atlantic University, is unconvinced. "A manatee is not all that slow," he says. "If frightened or excited, it can explode, moving 21 feet per second." (Stewart 2009).
He theorized that the manatee could not hear the boats well. He designed an experiment and found that they could hear high-pitched noises. Their own voices are high pitched, chirping-like sounds. Any low pitched noise was more difficult for them to hear if they could hear it at all, in fact, the engine noise of the boats registered at the low end of their hearing range. They typically could not hear a boat until it was 50 feet away or closer.
Boats who comply with the 20 limit speed limits pose less to no danger for the manatees compared to those who travel faster. Boats traveling at 80 to 90 mph and over will kill or wound a manatee.
Feng (2005) has reported on the viscous debates between profit oriented Floridians that don’t want the manatees to be in the equation of development along the coastline and nature minded groups that feel protecting the manatee should be a priority of all parties. Feng shares an example by quoting James Reid a specialist in manatee research for the USGS, “In the late 1980s, the state of Florida embarked on the strategy of county-by-county protection plans instead of proposed state-wide boating safety and manatee protection measures. This resulted in the current situation of delayed plans, bitter hostility among parties, and conflicts in interests.”
Eighty per cent of the manatee deaths occurred in 13 Florida counties so speed limit signs have been set up in these counties but haven’t resulted in much change because they are only instated in the winter plus there are not enough officers to protect the law (Feng 2005).
Koelsch (Stewart 1999) has commented "Manatees are an endangered species (in order) to protect them, we have to understand their behavior." Manatee catch and tag efforts have identified the wounds caused by boat propellers when a manatee does survive a collision with a boat. By using the catch and tag method for studying the manatees, biologists can find where they eat, where they breed and their favorite waters. This is the information that is needed to build preserves for the manatee.
Gerstein (Stewart 1999) and his research time have suggested placing underwater warning systems pitched to the higher sound level that manatee to alert them to oncoming boats. Veil (2008) reports testing results of an alarm developed by Gersteing and other researchers at Florida Atlantic University. The alarm or “acoustic alerting device” has no impact on the environment and is designed to replicate the high pitched sounds of the manatee. The research was carried out in a NASA wildlife refuge using a the device to conduct underwater “psychoacoustic (audiometric) research. The research has been a great success with 100% of the manatees moving away within 30 yards from boats approaching in controlled trials.
Hauserman (2000) has suggested several ways to protect the manatee including: increasing the number of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission law officers so state laws protecting the sea grass can be enforced, increasing the number of employees in charge of regulations at the Florida Department of the Environment, stronger penalties when regulations violating sea grass and the manatee are ignored, and incorporate manatees into the calculation of “minimum flow rates” along with humans when setting levels for Florida’s natural springs. There exists a Warm Water Task Force for the Florida Manatee Recovery Team. They are delegated the task to come up with alternative habitat for manatees if and when power plants are closed. Hauserman (2000) urges them to come up with focused solutions including suggested sites for refuges.
The main reason that manatees are still under threat of death from boating and other problems along both the Florida coastlines is due to the inability of the people in the decision making process to work out any comprises. For the manatee to become extinct on our watch would be a tragedy. Business and building developers as well as tourism businesses must understand that some changes must be made in order to honor the natural balance of the coastline waters’ ecosystem.
The sea level has already risen and scientist are alarmed at the melting of the ice caps which are adding water to the seas at a much faster rate than original models for global warming had used for calculations. Their alarm is focused for one thing on the possibility that a large part of the Floridian peninsula will be under water. Perhaps there is still time to work with the environment instead of against it to make the rise in sea level less dangerous to humans and to wildlife such as the manatee.
Manatees are one of the biggest attractions for tourist who visit Florida because of their sweet personalities. People want to see them and touch them when possible. Setting up and designing practical yet useful sanctuaries for the manatee which can also serve as quiet, natural tourist attractions can be a benefit to both the manatees and the tourism industry.
The manatee is a mammal like humans. The animals have shown themselves to be adaptable to climate change as they have changed their migration patterns and winter habitat in order to match local seasonal changes. They also showed themselves to be adaptable to the research with the acoustic alerting device that was carried out by the Florida Atlantic University. The manatees learned how to show what they could and couldn’t hear and how to avoid getting hit by boats.
There is no good reason for manatees to be allowed to become extinct, especially not for building a new hotel or motel that might be underwater in a few decades or years. Researching this paper helped me realized even more emphatically how important finding ways to help the manatees is for both the manatees and for people.
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