The Emancipation of Manny-T, the Emaciated Manatee
By Jason Bittel
Scientists can identify individual humpback whales by the shape and coloring of their flukes, giant river otters by the white markings under their chins and spotted eagle rays by their freckles.
Would you like to know the best way to ID a particular manatee? Look at its scars.
Manatees can live more than 40 years in the wild, and by the time they reach adulthood, most have acquired a slash or two—or a dozen—from uncomfortably close encounters with propeller blades and ship's hulls.
Imagine that: Evolving over the course of 60 million years, ditching your hind legs in the process, and then being reduced to a target scored with human-inflicted wounds, thanks to another species deciding that speedboats are fun.
While horrifying to look at, the distinctive pattern of boat-strike scars that a manatee has on its body does help scientists estimate population sizes and keep tabs on the animals' habitats. By counting the number of scars, for instance, researchers can determine whether a manatee has lived in areas with heavy boat traffic.
Only 6,500 or so manatees remain in Florida, and the species is officially considered threatened under the Endangered Species Act. (Manatees were considered endangered until March of 2017, when the U.S. Fish And Wildlife Service declared that the population had recovered enough to be bumped up a notch. Not everyone agrees with this decision, however.)
When an emaciated manatee showed up in the Bahamas community of Spanish Wells last September, scientists immediately set to work trying to save it. Around two dozen manatees have made their way over to the islands from the mainland over the course of the past few decades, but this one was a startling sight.
"He looked like roadkill that just happened to still be living," said Ted Turner, vice president of Dolphin Cay Operations at the Atlantis resort on nearby Paradise Island. "I've never seen an animal this emaciated that survived."
There's no sure way of knowing how the animal wound up in the Bahamas, but Turner and his colleagues suspect Hurricane Irma had something to do with it, since the storm had blown through the Caribbean just 10 days prior to the manatee's arrival.
Manatees are known for their chubby figures, but this one—nicknamed Manny-T—was skin and bones. The animals eat a limited variety of vegetation that grows along the coasts and inlets of Florida, and those plants don't grow out in the open ocean. After traveling more than 200 miles at sea, Manny-T was near death.
Because Atlantis is equipped to care for marine mammals, Turner and his crew were perfectly suited to step in and help. They immediately brought Manny-T, estimated to be eight or nine years old, back to Atlantis to begin treatment. Using the scars all over his body as clues, Turner and his team were able to compare notes with other researchers and determine that he originally hailed from Tampa Bay, Florida—some 400 nautical miles away.
If healthy, an animal of his length and age would weigh somewhere in the neighborhood of 840 pounds. But the animal before them was a ghost of his former self, weighing just 365. Manny-T couldn't even bring himself to eat the food the scientists offered him.
Blood tests revealed that the manatee was hypoglycemic and on the verge of metabolic collapse, said Mike Walsh, a professor of veterinary medicine at the University of Florida who helped in Manny-T's recovery. Believe it or not, Walsh said that before the manatee could resume eating, he first needed to poop.
During his time at sea, the manatee likely ate whatever he came across—his bowels were compacted with hard, woody material. So the crew set to work administering coconut oil enemas several times a day. At the same time, they pumped glucose and other nutrients into the manatee's stomach through a feeding tube.
Fortunately for Manny-T, the regimen worked. In just a few days, he was able to start eating again. Soon Turner and his crew were feeding him 144 heads of romaine lettuce, 24 heads of kale and 4 bags of spinach every day. Over Christmas, Manny-T even ate the resort island out of kale entirely.
After a few months of recovery at Atlantis, Manny-T was back to his bulbous, 840-pound self. Turner and his crew released him into the waters of the Bahamas on Jan. 9. Thanks to satellite telemetry and a monitoring device looped around the manatee's tail, scientists are now tracing Manny-T's explorations of his new habitat. He's been checking out the coastline at a rate of about 8.5 miles a day.
What's more, photos taken by locals reveal that Manny-T may even have a girlfriend—an older female named Gina who has been plying these waters since 2014. "He's had about the best reintroduction into the wild I could imagine for an animal," said Turner.
Of course, Manny-T and his kind still face many threats, from boats to toxic algae blooms to cold snaps. The day I spoke with Walsh, he was on his way to recover a dead manatee that couldn't survive Florida's recent winter temperature plunge. Around 10 to 15 manatees die from cold each year, said Walsh. But some years are worse than others. In 2010, for instance, as many as 250 to 300 manatees may have perished from the cold.
This is one reason why saving a single animal like Manny-T is important. Conservation is a numbers game, after all. "You can't predict when that's going to happen again," Walsh said, referring to the 2010 cold, "and that's why there was some concern about delisting the species last year." Manatees can respond to some challenges, he added, but too many setbacks for too many years in a row can upend the balancing act.
Fortunately, the story of Manny-T is far from over. Now that he's healthy and seems to be staying put in the Bahamas, he will continue to provide invaluable data about how these animals are able to adapt to new habitats.
"Good care for animals is similar to good care for us. It's a time-consuming and expensive relationship," said Walsh. "But the payoff for what we're going to learn from Manny-T is going to be amazing."
Reposted with permission from our media associate onEarth.
People across New England witnessed a dramatic celestial event Sunday night.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By David Reichmuth
Over the last month, I've seen a number of opinion articles attacking electric vehicles (EVs). Sadly, this comes as no surprise: now that the Biden administration is introducing federal policies to accelerate the roll out of electric vehicles, we were bound to see a reaction from those that oppose reducing climate changing emissions and petroleum use.
The majority of EVs sold in 2020 were models with a starting price (Manufacturers Suggested Retail Price) under $40,000 and only a fifth of models had a starting price over $60,000.
On Friday, China set out an economic blueprint for the next five years, which was expected to substantiate the goal set out last fall by President Xi Jinping for the country to reach net-zero emissions before 2060 and hit peak emissions by 2030.
The Great Trail in Canada is recognized as the world's longest recreational trail for hiking, biking, and cross-country skiing. Created by the Trans Canada Trail (TCT) and various partners, The Great Trail consists of a series of smaller, interconnected routes that stretch from St. John's to Vancouver and even into the Yukon and Northwest Territories. It took nearly 25 years to connect the 27,000 kilometers of greenway in ways that were safe and accessible to hikers. Now, thanks to a new partnership with the Canadian Paralympic Committee and AccessNow, the TCT is increasing accessibility throughout The Great Trail for people with disabilities.
Trans Canada Trail and AccessNow partnership for AccessOutdoors / Trails for All project. Mapping day at Stanley Park Seawall in Vancouver, British Columbia with Richard Peter. Alexa Fernando<p>This partnership also comes at a time when access to outdoor recreation is more important to Canadian citizens than ever. <a href="https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/200527/dq200527b-eng.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Studies from the spring of 2020</a> indicate that Canadian's <a href="https://www.bnnbloomberg.ca/moneytalk-mental-health-during-covid-19-1.1567633" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mental health has worsened</a> since the onset of social distancing protocols due to COVID-19. </p><p>The <a href="https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/coronavirus/in-depth/safe-activities-during-covid19/art-20489385" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mayo Clinic</a> lists hiking, biking, and skiing as safe activities during COVID-19. Their website explains, "When you're outside, fresh air is constantly moving, dispersing these droplets. So you're less likely to breathe in enough of the respiratory droplets containing the virus that causes COVID-19 to become infected."</p><p>TCT leadership took this into consideration when embarking on the accessibility project. McMahon explains that there has never been a more important time to bring accessibility to the great outdoors: "Canadians have told us that during these difficult times, they value access to natural spaces to stay active, take care of their mental health, and socially connect with others while respecting physical distancing and public health directives. This partnership is incredibly important especially now as trails have become a lifeline for Canadians."</p><p>Together, these organizations are paving the way for better physical and mental health among all Canadians. To learn more about the TCT's mission and initiatives, check out their <a href="https://thegreattrail.ca/stories/" target="_blank">trail stories</a> and <a href="https://thegreattrail.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/TCT_2020-Donor-Impact-Report_EN_8.5x14-web.pdf" target="_blank">2020 Impact Report</a>.</p>