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The Gap Year Blog

Act Like A Manatee

15 Oct 2019 10:20 AM

Since coming to Caye Caulker, our marine conservation group have carried out many manatee searches. In my first week we did three searches. This consisted of driving the boat out to our resident manatees favourite spots and standing on the boat scanning the area looking for snouts coming out of the water for breath, or the sight of their paddle like tail. These last 45 minutes as they can only hold their breath for 25 minutes at a time.

The first three searches were unsuccessful, however the first search on week two was not. Assistant Research officer Mel spotted a tail! We slowly, but enthusiastically lowered ourselves into the water. In that moment Matt our Project coordinator shouted that he had spotted two more. We swam over and there were three enormous manatees floating calmly in the water. We kept our distance, so as not to upset them and scare them away. We were rewarded with their acceptance of our presence after the three beautiful creatures had spent some time checking us out. From here we got to work, noting down the sex, markings, and behaviour of the manatees, as well as filming some footage for later reference. We observed them for around 20 minutes before they wondered off and we left them to it.

The following morning we went out again and a manatee was spotted instantly! We swam over and met three manatees - one female, two males. They were flirting with eachother - by making contact with their noses and scraping algaie off eachother. These three didn’t seem bothered by our presence because of our respectful behaviour. Eventually, one of the males lost interest in the female and swam off at a substantial speed straight towards us. At first I wasn't sure if he was being playful or aggressive, or simply unbothered either way. I think it was the latter. We all sprang into action as we heard someone shout and we quickly moved out of its way. We rose to the surface for an excited discussion about what we had just experienced.

Following this we thought we should leave the manatees to it, and have a quick snorkel around the beautiful coral reef. We saw all sorts of fish and even a baby nurse shark sleeping under the reef. Suddenly out of nowhere one of the manatees from earlier came back to say hello. He was very inquisitive, and after coming up to the surface for a breath, he hovered close to us. He had a good look at myself and another volunteer before swimming off. These encounters continued for the following week giving the researchers an opportunity to study the animals, and us a chance to assist and spend more time with these gentle giants.

 By Henry Barnard Jones, Frontier Belize Volunteer