June is manatee-mating season - and today we saw a herd of male manatees following a single female along the Belize City coastline. We found them thrashing around near Bally Gardens, that's where the female had come right up to the shore - to try and escape her many suitors. That's right, this is nature at its wildest, not a romance novel - and as manatee expert Jamal Galvez explained - during the time when she is in estrous (what we would call "heat,"), life for the female marine mammal is difficult, and physically stressful. In fact, it's perilous for the whole herd following her - and that's why boaters also have to be extra cautious:..
Jamal Galvez, Sea to Shore Manatee Pgm Coordinator
"Normally the female when it get estrous "in heat" it draws a lot of males. You could find 20-30 males chasing one female at any point in time and it can go on for a week to two weeks."
"All this splashing about and turbulence we are seeing here is not courtship, it's actually the males are trying to initiate pretty much by force coitus."
"Correct, unlike human beings we have the privilege of who we mate or who we date. Manatees'don't get that choice, it's the dominant males, and normally the stronger males is the one that gets there. Sometimes you have more than one dominant male fighting among each other - not necessarily fighting, but trying to get closer to the female. Normally we would see this very close to shore, mainly to aid the female. In order for the males to mate the female they need to get under the female and if she is shallow water, probably lie on her stomach, it's very difficult to get underneath her. But in deeper water they can easily get underneath her and in the deeper water you have 4-5 males trying to on at the same time - kind of eventually drown the female. Like I said this can go on for a week to two weeks the males leave and go and feed and come back while the female stays here while the other males take shift."
"She can't even eat?"
"Not necessarily. As you can see these males aren't even allowing her to come up to breathe, so breathing is tedious as well. With the conditions they are in to have 2,3,4 - thousand pound Manatee lying on top of you - just could imagine being in the water you need to come up to get air as well is very complicated. So we are begging the boaters please be on the lookout. We would want to hear any dead Manatee coming up this week as a result of this that's why we are making it aware. Once you are traveling along the Belize river area please be on the lookout for these Manatees. They are slow moving creatures, they are difficult to get out of the way and when they are mating they tend to gazed away so a boat could come up close and the animal wouldn't even be responding from the boat's presence."
"Boats traveling in which zones should be most aware? From where to where?"
"Once you are traveling anywhere towards the Belize river; Haulover Creek, that area right now is avery cautious area, we are hoping that you be very cautious and be on the lookout. Put out preventive measure, a bow man on your bow to lookout to see if they see any Manatees. You can identify them from the mud footprints as you can see out here. Normally when they are mating you will see a lot of mud footprints, a lot of splashing and lots of activities. So if you can be on the lookout and see how best you can avoid it. If you can avoid the area or if you are in the area, you are ask to please travel with cautious speed."
And after all that competition, this female will only bear a single calf after a one year gestation. She won't go into heat again for another 5 years or so.
As Galvez said, this mating activity can go on for at least two weeks - so boaters need to be on the alert. Residents of the area say they've seen the herd thrashing about since Saturday.
It’s manatee mating season
Sightings of manatees in our coastal waters are no rare occurrence, in fact, the large sea mammals are usually spotted near the mouth of the Belize River. What is uncommon is the location of a large herd near the city’s shoreline…but it is mating season. This morning, Program Coordinator for the Belize Manatee Conservation Program, Jamal Galvez was alerted to the presence of a wounded manatee in the area of Bally Gardens near mile four on the Phillip Goldson Highway. When he responded to the scene, Galvez was shocked to find that a herd of up to twenty-five bulls were taking turns mating with a sea cow, in estrus, in the shallow waters nearby. While the copulation of these mammals is rarely caught on film, boaters are being advised to exercise caution in the area since manatee traffic has increased considerably.
Jamal Galvez, Program Coordinator, Belize Manatee Conservation Program
“We were called out first of all about an injured manatee. We went out there and realized that it was a mating heard. It has been there since last Saturday from what I have understand. Manatees mate all year around, but we tend to see it more around summer time and it is a very interesting way to see manatees. It is not the normal behavior; it is very aggressive. It is twenty to twenty-five males chasing one female. It is right there at mile four; we went out there and we investigated and we saw a huge female chased by twenty to twenty-five males like I just said. And it is really reassuring based on the last two weeks of manatee deaths that we have had to see manatees mating, which assures us that there may be one or two calves—cause they can have two, but they normally have one—coming in the next twelve months because they are pregnant for twelve months, like horse. So it is really great news and it is encouraging that the population is actually revolving and there is addition to the population despite the increase in manatee deaths.”
“What are the warnings at this point seeing as though water crafts may be trafficking that particular area and you have all these animals that are near to the shore?”
“Exactly, the area that they are in is the Belize River area; it is the area that has the highest percentage of manatee deaths every year…last year twenty-eight and it just has been going up every year. So we are pleading to motor, anybody that is traveling in that area, please be on the lookout for these manatees. I expect that they are going to be up and down in that area for the next week or so. So if you are in that area, please just take a minute to keep an eye out, have a lookout at the bow or put other precautionary measures in place so we don’t have any incidents with these manatees. We can’t afford any more manatee deaths as it is right now. The amount that we’ve had so far this year is not good news at all. It was good to see the animals are intermingling, they are mating and hopefully in the next twelve months, we may have something from the activities that we saw out there today.”
A total of four manatees were killed during the last week in May in an area not distant from where the herd has gathered.