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.
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.
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.
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