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Ask the Expert

Answers From The Manatee Expert
Special thanks to Nancy Sadusky, Save the Manatee Club, for providing her time and expertise in responding to your questions.

From: New Jersey
Iselin Middle School

Q. How young are the calves when they start breeding? Kyle Fisher Iselin Middle School

A. Female manatees don't start breeding until they are five years of age. Males are not mature until they are nine years of age.

Q. Unfortunately humans kill manatees. Do they have any other predators? Kelly Egan Laci Falk Iselin Middle School

A. No. Manatees have no natural enemies.

Q. Are there any organizations or laws to help manatees from becoming extinct? Have their numbers improved over the last few years? Gino Gesso Iselin Middle School

A. Manatees are protected under federal law by the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 and the Endangered Species Act of 1973. Manatees are also protected by the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act of 1978. The Manatee Recovery Plan was developed as a result of the ESA and is coordinated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Other major groups that participate in manatee protection efforts include: the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the U.S. Geological Survey's Sirenia Project, and Save the Manatee Club.

Photo credit:s USFWS
Regarding your question on population, for years now, researchers have believed that the manatee population was somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 animals. The last aerial survey of the Florida manatee population was done in January of 1998. The survey showed a population count of 2,019 manatees. A synoptic survey is a statewide aerial survey designed to get a head count of individual manatees. The success of synoptic surveys is very dependent on weather conditions. If the weather is cold and clear, then manatees are gathered around warm water sites, making it easier to get a "nose" count. They are not the most reliable way to determine overall manatee population because so much depends on weather conditions, but they are the only available method at present.

Other surveys from past years have yielded the following results:

1991 - 1,465
1992 - 1,856
Jan. 1995 - 1,443
Feb. 1995 - 1,832
Feb. 1996 - 2,639
Jan. 1997 - 2,229
Jan. 1998 - 2,109

From: Minnesota

Photo credit:s USFWS
Museum Magnet

Q. What are the kinds and sizes of manatee boat scars? Are any scars curable or do they stay on the manatees forever? (Please include the depth of the boat scars.)

A. Many manatees have "skeg" marks. A skeg is part of a motor on the boat. It extends slightly below the propeller and can sometimes come in contact with the manatee without the propeller making contact, creating a single longitudinal gash. When a manatee gets hit by a boat propeller, it also creates prop wounds which take the form of a parallel series of slash marks. If the injury is deep enough, it can be seen on the manatee forever. If the injury is superficial, it will still be there, but you wouldn't be able to see it unless you got very close as skin would grow on top of it.

Photo credit:s USFWS
Q. What are the different types of speedboats that are dangerous to the manatees?

A. All types of boats that are going too fast are dangerous to manatees. Most manatees only travel about 3-5 mph hour (they can go up to 20 mph in short bursts), so any boat that is traveling faster than 15-20 mph is capable of injuring or killing a manatee.

Q. Is it possible to teach manatees to do tricks? If yes, what tricks can they perform?

A. Manatees are definitely smart enough to learn tricks. Manatee brains don't have convolutions on the surface of their brain that are usually associated with higher intelligence. However, they have a higher gray matter to white matter ratio than any other mammal known, including humans! Since gray matter is the area of the brain where thinking occurs, it could be that manatees are a lot smarter even than us! More research needs to be done to understand the composition of manatee brains and how it relates to their intelligence.

As far as what tricks they can perform, we think the manatee's ability to survive in a hostile environment is a pretty neat trick in itself!

From: New Mexico
Mountain Elementary School

Photo Credit: USFWS

Q. What do manatees do during a hurricane?

A. Researchers believe that manatees are well adapted to the aquatic environment and often seek sheltered waters during rough conditions.

Q. Why are manatees attracted to the sound of motors?

A. They aren't. Reserach has shown that they actually avoid them, when they can.

Q. Are manatees as smart as humans?

A. See above answer on "tricks" question.

Photo credit:s USFWS
From: Missouri
Thanks for your help.
Bob Coulter

Q. Can manatees see color?

A. Good question! I asked our biologist, and she said she believes that manatees do see in color.

Q. How can you tell a female from a male manatee?

A. If you look at the underside of a manatee, referencing from the head to the tail, the genital opening in the male manatee is just below the umbilicus (belly button), and the female's genital opening is just above the anus. That's how you can tell a male from a female.

Nancy Sadusky
Communications Director
Save the Manatee Club

500 N. Maitland Ave.Maitland, FL 327511
1-800-432-JOIN (5646)
* Visit the Save The Manatee Club Web Site