The Manatee of Cape Coral
An encounter with a manatee can be a frightening experience. But fear not, these huge, sea mammals, known as the “gentle giants” just enjoy the warm waters of Florida and South America, and humans do them more harm than they have ever done to us.
The evolution of manatees began over 60 million years ago when a four legged land animal, evolved, adapting to environmental changes resulting in three distinct species , the manatee, the elephant and a hydrax (a small animal that resembles a woodchuck).
Manatee belong to the animal order Sirenia. The term sirenia comes from the word “siren”. A siren was a mythological term for a creature that was half-woman and half-fish. It was believed that ancient fishermen mistook the manatee for a siren mistook them for mermaids. How one could mistake a manatee, who has a face that only a mother could love, for a beautiful mermaid is a stretch of the imagination.
Manatee are not called “gentle giants” for nothing. They can weigh over 2000 pounds and reach lengths of 15 feet. They feed mostly on the sea grasses and are at home in both fresh and salt water. They are air-breathing mammals, and need to surface every so often to breathe. They prefer the warm water of the Gulf of Mexico and South America, and suffer greatly when temperatures drop below 65 degrees during our rare cold spells. When water temperatures do drop, the manatees often migrate to natural springs such as is found in Crystal River in northern Florida or to power plants where they keep warm in the plant’s discharge water.
Currently (2016), “ As a result of significant improvements in its population and habitat conditions, and reductions in direct threats, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) announced today that the West Indian manatee is proposed to be downlisted from endangered to threatened status under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).In 1981, the group “Save the Manatee” was formed. This group has done much to protect the manatee and increase their numbers.
Here in Cape Coral it took the power of one woman to make a difference for th
e manatee population that live in our canals. Maija Gadient Heberlein, moved to Cape Coral and was thrilled to find manatee in the canal behind her home. Maija was no stranger to manatees. Her father often traveled to the United States from Switzerland where he and Maija lived. He became interested in the manatee and wrote a small book on these interesting creatures.
Across the canal from Maija home was a spit of land that was being used as a hangout for teenagers and periodically Maija would go over there to clean up the mess. She decided to go to the City of Cape Coral to ask that they make the City owned land into a park. After long hours of meeting with the City, Maija “the squeaky wheel” got her way and Sirenia Vista Park was officially named. Over its short life, the park has undergone a wonderful transformation and is used as a viewing location for the manatee, a kayak launch area, fishing, birding, and a place to just sit and watch the boats go by. There is a manatee cam that monitors the life of the manatee. Talks are underway to consider building an environmental center such as we have at Rotary Park. That would be a wonderful addition to the park.
To report dead or distressed manatee call FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922)
To learn more about manatee conservation, go to MyFWC.com/Manatee
To view mortality data, visit MyFWC.com/Research/Manatee and click on “Manatee Mortality Statistics.”
To see photos of Sirenia Vista Park under construction and photos of Florida Fish and Wildlife conduction scientific information about the manatee, visit our Flickr photos.