Thursday, March 4, 2010

March 4: Manatees

Today we went on a manatee tour out of Port of the Islands, just south of Naples. I've always wanted to see one of these endangered sea cows, and we were not disappointed. We saw at least a dozen of these half-ton mammals moving through the shallow water of the canal, looking just like--as our guide put it--giant potatoes. Several came right up to the boat, close enough that we could see barnacles and algae growing on their bodies, as well as (sadly) propellor scars on their tails. Social creatures, they hang out in small herds. Our guide Rick told us there are about 5,000 manatees left, and that the unseasonable cold has killed several hundred this winter. What I found fascinating is that these gentle herbivores each have to eat about 100 pounds of sea grass a day. At high tide they will also apparently forage on low-hanging red mangrove leaves, pulling them down with their fins. We saw one mother with a calf--they come up to breath in unison. She will care for and nurse the calf for what must be two very long years.

Manatee coming up for air

Slow-moving giants,
herds foraging for sea grass--
cows of the warm sea.

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