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Mermaids and Manatees.

The Manatee or Sea Cow is becoming rare. In Florida it is threatened with extinction by a virus and by the damage caused by the propellers of power boats.

The folklore of the sea contains many references to the sighting of mermaids. The consensus of modern opinion however is that such sightings were of the manatee, one of four species of sea cow belonging to the order Sirenia. 

Sailors reporting mermaids must have been away from the pleasures of the port for many months indeed, for the manatee has a grey peeling skin, which is often green with algal filaments and slime, a blunt bristly muzzle, and small round eyes. 

Manatees have been seen in  the canals of Grand Bahama , and it is fair to assume that these plant-eating marine mammals have visited the islands periodically, for they are found to the south in the Guianas and to the north in the Everglades of Florida. In both of these areas, however, they are becoming progressively more rare as a result of hunting, motor boating and destruction of their natural habitats. 

To some extent the sea cows are anatomically and behaviorally in≠termediate between the two other groups of marine mammals that are totally independent of the land - the aquatic whales and dolphins and the seals, whose aquatic adaptation does not allow them to give birth and suckle in the water.  

Manatees cannot leave the water, but there is evidence that they are able to heave the forepart of their body from the water to feed upon vegetation on the banks of rivers. If removed completely from the water Manatees are Incapable of movement, their mass being too great for their muscles. 

Manatees are entirely herbivorous, feeding on any plant or soft vegetable material. In order to cope with this diet they have a most unusual mouth. The two corners of the mouth project forward, pressing in the vegetation with pincer-like movements of the yellowish bristle-covered lips. The forelimbs are also used to sweep vegetation towards and into the mouth. 

The single young, weighing about 30 lbs, is born underwater and helped to the surface by its mother for its first breath. Soon the calf is able to remain submerged, taking a breath every few minutes. The reproductive habits of these animals are only recently being understood as more births are occurring in captivity In Seaquaria In the United States. 

The Manatee has an extremely delicate sense of hearing. Any unusual noise will cause the manatee to slowly sink without perceptible motion, vertically downwards. These secretive and seldom seen animals may reach a length of 13 feet and a weight of 2,000 lbs. The Florida manatee, Trlchechus manatus, was formerly widespread along the coasts of the Gulf of Mexico and the West Indies, but is now restricted to a small area of southern Florida. The closely related Dugongs of the Indian Ocean more closely resemble the whales. Their bodies lack hair and the flippers lack nails and are used only in swimming. The Dugongs have two upper incisor teeth, which may develop in the male into tusks 10 inches in length.

All of the Sirenians are to some extent threatened, and will, if con≠servation is not speedily enacted, meet with the same fate as the Stellerís Sea Cow, which is now probably ex≠tinct. Discovered in the Bering Sea in 1741, all that now remains of this animal are various museum skeletons.