Manatees

By Anne Clement

I think the dolphins are universally loved for their great, leaping joy as they rush and seem to dance at the bows of our boats. But another mammal, with a quite different personality, is much loved here in Florida. This is the manatee.

I am trying to think of a way to describe the personality difference, and I guess I will say that if dolphins selected music to listen to it might be traditional jazz with a nice fast beat. A zippy tune with some lilting and joyful color in it like Scott Joplin. Manatees might go for a real slow basoon solo of mood music going nowhere or perhaps easy listening elevator music.

I went into the marina from this anchorage here in Titusville, Florida to do the usual e-mail, garbage, and grocery run, and on my way back wondered what was causing the ripples in the water right by the dinghy dock. I could see something quite large was wallowing just below the surface.

The water is just clear enough to see about two feet down, but I easily saw two manatees nose to tail slightly lifting and lowering themselves to breathe and just rolling a tiny bit in the water that was slightly warmer because of the shallows between the marina wall and nearby boats. Manatees have the full figure of the well fed and I cannot say their faces are much more than practical with a long and bendy nose that arcs up for air so they need not struggle to lift their heads. A fan shaped tail is at the other end.

Not much happens in the day of a manatee, but it seems to all lead to great contentment that infects the observer after a while. I found myself softly pleased as I watched them and they watched me for about a half hour.

A fellow later told me that they love fresh water and he has often watched boaters at the dock spray manatees with the hose and they come right over, roll onto their backs, open their mouths and drink in great quantities of fresh water. Signs say not to do this, but perhaps that is an attempt on the marina's part to save on the water bill.

They are a protected species here and the speed limits imposed on boats outside the canal itself seem to have improved the situation for them because their numbers are increasing again. Some careful observations have determined where they like to swim and hang out so those areas have been posted even more closely although some say much of the limitation has more to do with property owners wanting less damage from wakes than any interest in the manatees. Props are a real danger to such slow moving beasts who are hard to see right under the water surface.

We are just getting slowed down from the faster pace of boat building into the slower pace of cruising and I hope to take a lesson from the manatees and go WAY slower anchored in the shallow water where these manatees hang out. Just breathing and being together quietly seems to be enough for them. A good plan for us too.

© Anne and Neville Clement, 2004