Posted by: Doc Bruce | August 7, 2007

A Week With Manatees

Manatee Week campers pose with Fred, a life-size Manatee model.

Jack Moran hustles toward the mark during a surf paddling race.

Recently, the campers at Sanibel Sea School camp were treated to everything manatee. For the week, we put ourselves into the role of our adorable marine mammals, the manatee.
The week started with our standard east-end hike in the morning, allowing us to explore the beaches and discover what the sea had brought forth. In the afternoon, we seined for fish to keep and observe for the week in our team aquaria. During that trip, we caught some juvenile Lookdown fish; which we continue to catch still – an uncommon summer treat in the shallows of the Gulf beaches. The previous week, we had the unexpected pleasure of swimming with a manatee, but on that day we only had the chance to hopefully look for a mammalian encounter. We didn’t get to swim with them, but we did make some close-up observations at Jensen’s Marina later in the week.
We made dioramas and had the great diorama design competition. Dioramas are museum-type displays that exhibit an animal in its habitat. Through this competition, we better understood the habitat requirements of manatees and the spatial relationship of these great creatures to their environment. Among the fascinating things we learned is that manatees can eat up to 180 lbs. of seagrass a day! The winning designers got a manatee toy to keep at home as a reminder of our massive mammalian friends.
We took the buoyancy challenge. In this game we donned life jackets, masks and snorkels and tried to get to the bottom despite our floatation devices! Then we stripped off the floatation and worked to stay afloat. It gave us a whole new meaning to floating on the deep blue sea. Buoyancy is something we take for granted, but is a real challenge for marine mammals; either it is easy to float and thus breathe, or it is difficult to get to the bottom and eat. Oh the tradeoffs we make.
The crowning glory was Manatee Madness where we blitzed some Sanibel hotspots to conduct some slightly different public education. In preparation, we had made a life-size manatee cut-out from cardboard to better understand the real size of an adult manatee. Armed with informative posters, our cardboard Manatee, Fred and sidewalk chalk, we stormed Doc Ford’s, Bailey’s and Fresh Produce to spread the conservation word. We drew manatees on the sidewalk and left behind information posters to help us all to better understand our mammalian friends. Two of our campers also recorded the process on film which can be seen on youtube.com by typing “manatee graffiti” in the search bar.
We owe a special thanks to the folks at Jensen’s Marina for sharing their manatees with us and Dairy Queen for cooling treats on the way back home. Doc Ford’s, Bailey’s and Fresh Produce allowed us to make spectacles (and leave some behind) at their businesses all in the name of conservation education – we appreciate their partnerships. Next week on the quest of our other marine mammals, during dolphin week.
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