Friday, July 25, 2008

Meet The Manatees

If fat and cute is your thing, you can't get find anything fatter and cuter than these creatures. Even if fat and cute isn't your thing you will be enchanted the first time you meet the rotund and graceful West Indian Manatee. Want to see them in person? You can find them in many areas of the Southern U.S. during the warm months and it's fun to swim, snorkel and kayak around them (in a respectful manner - remember, this is their home) in Crystal River and other areas on the Nature Coast of Florida. If you are a pleasure boater and your boat has a motor, you know to be careful when making your way through manatee country. These gentle, slow moving giants have no way to protect themselves from your boat propeller and every year manatees sustain horrible injuries and die from encounters with boat motors.

When John and I started our gypsy adventure-ing in our caravan I took it upon myself to introduce him to all the joys and oddities of the Southern United States, of which the manatee is definitely one. He's full blooded Native American from the high desert of New Mexico so he'd never seen a manatee. I knew just where to go to make the introduction. One of the very best places to view and learn about the manatee is at Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park in Homossassa, Florida. Another great place is Mote Marine Lab in Sarasota. Outside the USA, West Indian manatees can also be found in the coastal and inland waterways of Central America and along the northern coast of South America.

They are big - very big (you will be surprised how big) - friendly, curious, slow, quite adorable and one of Florida's (and the world's) most unusual wild animal treasures. The manatee's closest land relatives are the elephant and the hyrax, a small, gopher-sized mammal. Don't ask me how that happened. They breathe air, and must come to the surface to do so, making them visible to onlookers, which is the fun part, but which also puts them in the path of several serious dangers such as the aforementioned boat propellers and entanglement in fishing lines or hooks (also a huge problem for dolphins and sea turtles.)

While John and I were at the Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park we ran across a happy park volunteer and zealous manatee advocate named Joyce, who at the end of the day was helping the rangers give the resident manatees a "spa treatment" - a rub down with sea salt to keep their skin in shape and, I suspect, also because the animals seemed to really groove on it. Joyce loves manatees. I love that Joyce loves manatees. She is committed to them, their care and their survival in a very real way and her total commitment is love in action. I love knowing there are people who care deeply and will devote so much to these funny-looking, totally engaging creatures and will help them in the ways they need to be helped if they are to survive in this modern world we have created. Because it’s not a world that is set up to be kind to them. So let’s applaud Joyce and all those out there like her. They are doing the work that a lot of us should be doing.

Manatees are an endangered species, protected under the federal Endangered Species and Marine Mammal Protection Acts and the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act. It is up to us humans to show a little hu-manatee, if you will, and make the effort to protect these gentle giants.

Joyce giving "the girls" their spa-treatment/skin rub. They love it.



Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park

Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo :


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Jimmy Buffett says :

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