Costa Rica’s Manatee: Refuge for a National Symbol

Despite its large size and weight, the manatee moves through the waters of Costa Rica’s Caribbean with a gentle dance. Since 20 years ago and due to the effect of hunting it was believed to be extinct, but the continuing reports of sightings show that this part of the country may again hold healthy populations of manatees. For sure it is not known how many are in Costa Rica, but the species is the same that is present from Florida to Brazil.
From June 20 to 24, a workshop took place for the viability analysis of Populations and Habitat of the Manatee (Trichechus manatus) (PDCA) in the Caribbean Conservation Strategy, organized by the School of Biological Sciences at the University Nacional (UNA), the Manatee Project Costa Rica (CAT), Thematic Interest Group Manatee (SMBC), Group of Conservation and Breeding Specialist Group (CBSG), Species Survival Commission of IUCN and PROMAR Foundation (Costa Rica ) with the aim of proposing a regional conservation plan, identifying gaps in important information about the populations gaps on the stocks, and analyzing the effects of humans on the species and its habitat.
Robert Bonde of the U.S. and Fabricio Rodrigues dos Santos of Brazil, authorities on a worldwide level on research and conservation of manatees, participated in this activity with the support of UNA.
They claim that to protect the species people have to be educated. “No matter the existence of a law, if people do not understand what it is, makes no sense. Manatees help ecotourism and help people benefit from the tours to go see them instead of killing them”, they said.
In February last two fifth grave children from the Escuela de Limoncito i n Limón, Miranda and Aldea Salas Fabiola Cortez Cash, along with their science teacher Yanette Ibarra, presented a proposal for the “Declaration of the manatee (Trichechus manatus) as national symbol of the marine fauna of Costa Rica”.
The proposal had the advice of academics from the School of Biological Sciences, Alexander Lépiz Gomez, who said the initiative will allow the establishment of conservation policies, and the first of which would raise awareness of the manatee as a representative species of wetlands country.
Manatees are large, fully aquatic, mostly herbivorous marine mammals sometimes known as sea cows. There are three accepted living species of Trichechidae, representing three of the four living species in the order Sirenia: the Amazonian manatee (Trichechus inunguis), the West Indian manatee (Trichechus manatus), and the West African manatee (Trichechus senegalensis).
They measure up to 4.0 metres (13 feet) long, weigh as much as 590 kg (1,300 pounds) and have paddle-like flippers. The name manatí comes from the Taíno, a pre-Columbian people of the Caribbean, meaning “breast”
Half a manatee’s day is spent sleeping in the water, surfacing for air regularly at intervals no greater than 20 minutes. Manatees spend most of the rest of the time grazing in shallow waters at depths of 1 -2 metres (3.3 – 6.6 ft). The Florida subspecies (T. m. latirostris) has been known to live up to 60 years.
On average, manatees swim at about 5 to 8 kilometres per hour (3.1 to 5.0 mph). However, they have been known to swim at up to 30 kilometres per hour (19 mph) in short bursts.
Manatees are capable of understanding discrimination tasks, and show signs of complex associated learning and advanced long term memory. They demonstrate complex discrimination and task-learning similar to dolphins and pinnipeds in acoustic and visual studies.
Manatees typically breed once every two years, gestation lasts about 12 months, and it takes a further 12 to 18 months to wean the calf. Only a single calf is born at a time and aside from mothers with their young or males following a receptive female, manatees are generally solitary creatures.

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