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Nursing Manatee Found Dead in Belize City

The carcass of a 10 feet female Antillean manatee was recovered on Tuesday along the Marine Parade area in Belize City. The carcass had large open propellor wounds to the head and upper right shoulder penetrating the ribs, and a fractured skull – which suggests that it had collided with a large boat. The Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute’s team examined the adult female manatee and confirmed that she was nursing. Jamal Galvez says that the team then conducted an external and internal assessment on the carcass and confirmed that she was not pregnant, but instead showed signs of nursing a calf. The team searched the surrounding area and did not locate the calf.

Jamal Galvez, Program Coordinator, Clean Water Marine:  “Yesterday, our team received a call about a manatee on Marine Parade that has been killed, that was been killed and upon assessment the team realised that it was a freshly killed manatee. They noticed heavy boating traffic of course with yesterday was a cruise ship day as well and so we assumed that it had happened early yesterday morning.”

Reporter: What was the cause of death?

Jamal Galvez, Program Coordinator, Clean Water Marine: “Watercraft collision. The carcass showed significant open wounds in its upper body area near the neck, shoulders, penetrating organs, the skull was cracked. Based on the size of the impact and based on the estimation of the impact we are estimating that it had to be a tender, one of those water taxis, a larger vessel. This animal was actually lactating so it was producing milk so we’re assuming that there’s a possibility that there may be a calf left orphaned now as a result of its demise.”

Reporter: Let’s talk about that, the orphaned calf. What are you doing, along with fisheries, to try to rescue or locate this calf?

Jamal Galvez, Program Coordinator, Clean Water Marine: Of course we’re trying to get the word out. We’re trying to share the concern in regards to the calf. What possible calf, being out there with the public, the general public, especially boaters traversing these areas. We have our team including volunteers that are going to be canvassing the coastline. Calves tend to want to come into the coastline and want to be in quiet areas or next to something like a dock or a seawall. So we’re having our team canvass this area, just in search, just in case there is one. There’s a possibility that there may not be one and the female may be lactating late or maybe still lactating after the calf may have already left but we’re just keeping it and being optimistic to ensure that we do our part in terms of looking to ensure that the animal, if it’s out there, we can offer care to it.”

Reporter: How long can a calf survive without its mother?

Jamal Galvez, Program Coordinator, Clean Water Marine: “It’s dependent on its age. If it’s still weaning or if it’s still being offered milk by its mother, it’s likely that it won’t survive more than two to three days because it doesn’t have the teeth. It won’t have the capacity to eat solid food so it’s dependent on its mother for sustenance so it’s very important that should one be out there that you report it immediately so that we can offer the assistance that is necessary.”

Galvez is urging the public, specifically boaters to be on the lookout for a lone manatee calf between the area of Marine Parade and the Drown Cayes.

Jamal Galvez, Program Coordinator, Clean Water Marine: “One of the main issues is that, especially considering the weather conditions right now with the high winds, the Easter time coming up, there’s an increase in watercraft activities. These boats are sheltering under these mangrove cayes like for instance the Drowned Cayes and that’s the very same place the manatees are sheltering, avoiding the high winds and high wave action and so it’s very likely that they’ll come in contact with these boats and we’re pleading to the boaters, especially during this time, we know that everybody wants to be on the waterways during Easter. There’s going to be an increase in the water taxi traffic to and from Caye Caulker and across the country. But avoid shallow areas, avoid these sheltered mangrove areas. I understand that you’re trying to seek refuge but that also is a natural refuge for these animals and they have no other place to go.”

Reporter: You’ve been working with manatees for several years now and trying to address this particular issue. In your opinion, is it that these boat drivers or operators, is it that they don’t care or is it that they don’t know?

Jamal Galvez, Program Coordinator, Clean Water Marine: I think we do a lot of work in terms of awareness but it’s never enough. There’s always room for more education and awareness and I would hate to believe that they know but don’t care. I’m hoping that it’s just a matter of a lack of knowledge but I also feel like there’s a lack of enforcement and many aspects. There has to be some sort of regulation in place that we limit the boat traffic or we have to establish some sort of a boating lane in Belize. It will help not just for manatees but for the environment and for the boaters themselves to keep them safe because coming in contact with one of these animals can cause harm to boats and to individuals on these boats as well. It’s very sad that a manatee was hit and at the magnitude in which it was hit, that boat captain and passengers on that boat had to have known that they hit something but did not report it and we’re pleading to boaters that should you hit a manatee, please report it. It gives us an opportunity to see if we can render aid or offer assistance. It can be a difference between rescuing an injured manatee or taking away a dead carcass.”

There are an estimated 1,000 manatees in Belize.