As we come into these summer months, the temperature in the air is getting warmer and with that the water is heating up. Many people are coming here who want to get in it and explore which leads to more snorkeling trips for my company rather than just cruising through the mangroves. We have been seeing lots of manatees and their babies, turtles mating, dolphins, and tons of other fish.
Along with the water being warmer some of the animals that don’t like cold water are starting to return. One of these animals would be the manatee. We have been seeing them a lot more often. On one tour a nice couple got to witness some great manatee action. I know it sounds funny saying the words manatee and action in the same sentence since they are such docile creatures, but boy was it action! After going through a few mangrove channels we rounded a corner to find a big mud puddle. I put the boat into neutral to see what was there. A few seconds later we saw what the disturbance was. There were four manatees that seemed to be wrestling and chasing each other!! They must have been mating.
When a female manatee goes into “estrus” and several males sense her they will follow and try to pursue her. Many times they will all succeed in actually mating with her, but not all will be successful in fertilizing the egg. During their studies, researchers have tried to decipher who the father was but cannot due to the multiple males on the scene.
What a great sight! We had no choice but to turn the engine off and watch, since the manatees had surrounded the boat by this point. Looking a little closer, we noticed there was also a baby in the crowd. It seemed so strange to see the manatees being so persistent toward this one female who already had a calf. Normally a mother manatee will nurse her calf for about a year or two until she is ready to reproduce again.
Mother manatees usually reach the age of maturity around the age of 5, with males reaching maturity around the age of 9. Mother manatees have one baby about every 2 to 5 years and their gestation period is about a year long. Once the calf is born, the mother will nurse it for about a year or two. Manatees are mammals, so just like us the baby starts on milk from the mother but is eating seagrass in a few weeks. The estimated population in 2011 was around 4,800. Although that number seems high, it is important to keep them protected and use caution when boating near them since their reproductive rate is slow.
So next time you’re on the water in a mangrove channel and see a big cloud of mud, slow the boat down to neutral and make sure there are no manatees in your path. If you’re lucky, you might get to see a sight as great as the one we witnessed!