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Saturation Point

A Slow and Lazy Day
By Karey Burek
Oct 23, 2008 - 10:30:37 AM

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Being cooped up in the house because you are sick is really no fun. I often long to be affixed to my couch while at work because of stress, exhaustion or to just plain relax. However, when I am confined to my bed or couch due to illness, the only thing I want to do is run out my back door and smell the fresh air. After a bit of recovery, I was able to do just that and spent a breezy cool day at a local fishing pier marveling at the low tide and watching some creatures that we are all too familiar with here in the Bay area, manatees.

As I was walking up the pier, I ­noticed a large dark figure rise to the surface and then slowly submerge. I was too far away to clearly identify what the blob was, but on closer inspection I realized I was in the midst of a group of manatee. With camera in hand, I started snapping away trying to identify how many were together and in what general direction they were moving.  There was a little calf that showed itself and then a group of males trying to court a female. It looked as if they were wrestling, but after researching this behavior when I got home, it seemed that we were witnessing a most “intimate” moment in a female manatee’s life.
Manatee Karey Burek Photos

According to, manatees do not form permanent pairs or monogamous relationships like some of us in the animal kingdom are prone to do. Instead, during breeding, a single female can be followed by up to 14 males forming what is known as a mating herd. Breeding and birth can occur at any time during the year, but most of the calves tend to arrive as bundles of joy in the spring and summer months.

On this particular day we saw a female being pursued by four males and because the tide was out and the water was so shallow it made for a wild display of splashing, fluke whips and general noisiness. Because of the “open” mating in the world of manatees, it is hard for researchers to determine who is essentially the father of each calf, but they are working on ways to narrow it down.

I found the facts about the manatee’s love life to be interesting as well as the information dealing with their lung capacity. While watching the mating dance, a large crowd gathered on the pier and all of us squealed with joy when we saw the bodies rising to the surface. One lady commented on how long they can hold their breath, and in reality, they can stay under water for up to 15 minutes. Imagine having that capability! In order to make sure they don’t choke on their salt water, the manatee can close their nostrils with a tight seal. It reminds me of watching hippos, which have the same type of nostril setting as the manatee.

Perhaps the best reason the manatee can hold their breath so long is ­because of the size of their lungs.  The lungs actually run along the backbone and are about 1 meter long in adult species. Can you imagine having a set of lungs that almost runs the length of your body?

Besides holding their breath for long periods of time the lungs actually help the manatee remain buoyant and able to stay at the surface to breathe and rest. Unfortunately this is also a trait that makes these creatures slow movers and what gets them in trouble. It is a sad state of affairs when most manatees are identified by their scars because of either getting hit by boats, tied up in fishing line or other pollution thrown into the water by humans.

As the water gets cooler, the manatees will be on the move to find warmer pockets to spend the winter. If you get the chance to see them in the wild, it is truly an amazing experience and one that you won’t soon forget.     

© Copyright 2008 by The Observer News Publications and M&M Printing Company, Inc.

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