Manatees Essay Research Paper OutlineThesis Manatee does

Manatees Essay, Research Paper


Thesis: Manatee does not have any natural predators in their environment, but humans

are the unnatural predator that causes manatees to be endangered. Declining population

is alarming and we need to do something to stop the decline.

I. Introduction: My experience with a manatee at Sea World

II. Columbus’s discovery

A. Thought manatees were mermaids

III. History of the manatees

A. Facts about manatees

B. Declining population

IV. What is happening to the manatees?

A. Causes of deaths among manatees

V. What has been done and what we can do to protect the manatees

VI. Manatees are our guinea pigs

Columbus’s Beauties

It was my first encounter with the mysterious West Indian manatee at Sea World

in San Diego. When I got the manatee’s attention by lightly tapping on the glass, he, like

a bloated blimp, floated over to the glass to make eye contact. Thick glass separated me

from this creature that I was seeing for the first time, but the gentle stare that penetrated

the glass from the other side made the glass almost inexistent. His pink eyes were tiny

compared to size of his colossal body, but they revealed a sense of gentleness about the

creature. His approach was gradual, but he seemed sweet and genuine. He looked like a

huge seal with a flat face and a body that reminded me of a punching bag, both tough.

When the manatee was glass distance away from me, the surface of the skin became

visible, and I felt like I was looking at an elephant that had no ears and was able to swim.

The resemblance in the skin was incredible, both animals having rough, leathery gray

skin. The mimicry was a definite work of evolution. The bonding with my new friend

did not last long, three minutes at the most, because I was not as important to him as his

lunch. A chunk of sea weed was dropped into the tank from above, and the manatee did

not hesitate to jolt toward it. He seemed to view the food as a lonesome traveler would

view a water source in the middle of the dessert, sacred. After finishing lunch, the

graceful manatee proceeded to pick a spot in the corner of the tank and lazily continued

his afternoon.

A manatee is not a well known animal, in fact, many of us probably never heard

of such a creature. The first encounter with the manatee is believed to have occurred

between the manatee and Christopher Columbus. When traveling in 1493, Columbus

sited in the New World waters three creatures that he believed were mermaids. But in

fact, “they were not the wondrous bare-breasted, fish tailed temptations of every ancient

mariner’s dream. They were manatees.”(Fichtner). Columbus made an entry in his

journal regarding his encounter with the ‘mermaids’ that stated “They were not as

beautiful as they are painted, since in some ways they have a face like a man.”(Fichtner).

It’s difficult for me to comprehend how a 1200 pound creature could be mistaken for a

mystical mermaid, and presumably a person today would not come to that conclusion

after making the same observations as Columbus did, but it’s very likely that we would

not know what creature was in front of us.

It is believed that Protosiren, which is an ancestor of the manatee, emerged about

50 million years ago, and today the product of Protosirens, the manatee still exist

(Fichetner). Manatees are not fish, but marine animals (U.S.). A West Indian manatee

looks like a very large walrus with a body that is full in the middle and narrows to a

paddle shaped tail. It’s about ten feet long on average, and approximately 1200 lbs., but

can grow up to 3500 pounds. Unlike many other animals, female manatees are generally

larger than males (Sea World). These massive animals have agile forelimbs that have

three to four toe nails on each, which they use to swim in the shallow water that they

reside in. Manatees have very sensitive skin that reacts to touch by changing the its shape

or by contracting. The peculiar lips of the manatees aid in movement as well as food

consumption (Bragg). Manatees reach their breeding maturity between three and ten

years of age and have an approximate gestation period of thirteen months. According to

Donna Carey, a manatee researcher, West Indian manatees spend most of their days

feeding along the water bottoms. She remarks “These herbavoric creatures, meaning that

they eat plants, usually eat ten percent of their body weight daily.”(Carey). An educator

at Sea World consents with Donna’s information about the feeding habits of manatees

and also provides me with the actual menu for manatees residing at Sea World in San

Diego. “The West Indian manatees here at Sea World dine on a couple of baskets of

monkey chow, eight cases of lettuce, five trays of hydroponically grown grasses,

bananas, apples, cabbages and vitamins.”(Chris). How appetizing! These puzzling

creatures spend most of their lives moving between freshwater , brackish, and saltwater

environments, but the West Indian Manatees mostly reside in Crystal River waters of

Southern Florida (U.S.).

A manatee is one of the most harmless and helpless marine mammals that live

today. And yet, it is on our endangered species list. There are only about 1900 West

Indian manatees left in the world today, and that number is rapidly decreasing (Sea

World). According to a brochure published by Sea World, there have been one hundred

and twenty manatee deaths in 1987 and two hundred and eighteen in 1990 (Sea World).

These numbers seem to be tragic considering that there are only 1900 of these creatures

left. I figured out that if the death rates remain constant, the manatee population will be

wiped out in less then nine years.

So what is happening to all these manatees one might ask. The answer is sad: we

humans are the primary killers of the manatee race. Historically, manatees were hunted

for flesh, bones, and hide by Native Americans and later by the early colonists. Manatee

fat was used for lamp oil, bones were used for medicinal purposes, and hide for leather

(U.S.). This kind of hunting, is believed to have begun the initial decline of the manatee

population, but today the decline is due to different factors. The main cause of manatee

deaths is due to speeding boats. Speeding boats run over many manatees that are

submerged just below the surface , killing them by either impact with the boat itself, or

by slicing into their backs with propellers (U.S.) If a manatee is not fatally sliced by the

propeller of the boat, it may die from internal injuries, or survive with deep scars to

remind them of the nearly mortal accident with a reckless human. Boats account for

about 26% of deaths among the manatees. It was documented in the US Fish and Wildlife

Service’s catalog that power boats outnumber manatees 600 to one (Fichtner). This

disturbing fact makes me wonder why we don’t have any laws that would help us control

the numbers of boats in areas with large manatee populations. Humans also put manatees

in danger when closing flood gates and canal locks. Numerous manatees have been

crushed by these closing flood gates (U.S.). As if the boats weren’t a powerful enough

murder weapon against these innocent animals, our fisherman are negligent with their

fishing nets and lines which cause many of the manatees to die. They may swallow these

fishing nets which will get tangled up in the tracts of the animal, or a fishing line may

become tightly wound around a flipper and create serious infections or even death (U.S.).

Most of these causes are more or less accidental even though preventable, but what

disgusts me the most is when fishermen, skin divers, and boaters purposely harass these

animals and purposely interrupt feeding and mating activities of the manatees (U.S.).

How sadistic can a person get? I was always taught to never do things that I would not

want others to do to me, and in this case I highly doubt that these harassers would want

that type of behavior imposed on them.

Efforts to protect the West Indian manatees have been underway since 1893, when

the lawmakers in Florida passed the state’s first manatee-conservation law in order to

protect these delicate creatures. Today, manatees are protected by the Florida Manatee

Sanctuary Act of 1978, which labels Florida as a manatee haven and permits the

establishment and enforcements of boat-speed regulations in manatee habitats (Fichtner).

Manatees are also protected by federal laws in Florida that prohibit hunting, capturing,

killing, or harassing these animals. These laws include the Marine Mammal Protection

Act of 1972 and the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (Bertram). The official authorities

are not the only ones that can do something to protect these fragile mermaid. Save the

Manatee Club was formed by ordinary people like us in order to conserve the manatees.

Started by a single person in 1981, this non-profit organization is now 20,000 members


It seems like there has been numerous actions taken by the authorities to protect

this diminishing species, but why are there still so many manatees dying each year? It

took me a while to come up with two hypotheses to help me answer that question, and I

think that I am on the right track. When doing research about what has been done to

protect manatees I came across a number of laws that have been passed, but not in one

piece of information have I found anything on what kind of punishments are enforced on

people who break these laws. It’s easy to put things on paper and say that they are laws,

but it’s a totally different to actually impose these laws. My other hypothesis is that

people act in a boomerang effect. That is when “people react to laws by behaving in the

opposite direction from that desired by those trying to socially influence them.”(Akert).

It’s difficult not to ask a question like “Why save the manatees?” when one is

faced with the problem of manatee endangerment. At first glance it seems that we do not

have any benefits from the manatees, and honestly, we don’t have any direct benefits

from these creatures, but the underlying gains are amazing. A manatee is like a guinea

pig. It tests out the water for us humans. If a manatee cannot survive in water, you and I

can’t either. The natural seagrass beds upon which the manatees feed are being engulfed

by pollution from herbicides, and surface run off (Fitchner). Through out Florida,

swimmers and fishermen have taken over what was once the manatees’ native territory.

Manatee mortality is going up and so is human mortality on the waterways of Florida

(Fitchtner). The guinea pigs are not surviving, and we may not either. It is time that we

took responsibility for our actions, and began respecting other living creatures; not

necessarily because we benefit from them, but just because they make our planet diverse.

I found a quote by B. Dioum which I think very well summarizes our mentality,

“For in the end we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we

understand. We will understand only what we are taught.”(Sea World). So the next time

you are out on a boat and going above the speed limit, not only are you threatening your

life, but also lives of manatees: defenseless, natural-born losers that cannot fight back.

Sources Cited

Akert, M. Robinson, Elliot Aronson, and Timothy D. Wilson. Social Psychology. 3rd ed.

New York: Longman, 1998.

Bertram, Colin. In Search of Mermaids. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1963.

Bragg, Michael T. “Manatees Facts and Information.” 2 Mar. 2000.


Carey, Donna. Telephone interview. 8 Mar. 2000.

Chris. Telephone interview. 8 Mar. 2000.

Fichtner, Margaria. “Lost at Sea?” Life Science Dec.1989: pp. 1G+. SIRS, 1990. Art. 25.

Sea World Education Department Publication. “Manatees.”1992.

U.S. Department of the Interior. West Indian Manatee, 1995.


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