A few seconds were enough to recognize the peculiar shapes underwater, feeding calmly on the seagrass. A few minutes later it was news among biologists and other specialized personnel: more than four specimens of manatee, the aquatic mammals, were sighted near the substation located in La Isleta-Bahía de Nuevas Grandes.
Manatí, Las Tunas.- Even for the keen eye on the exotic sea creatures, it is exciting to see the legendary specimen, this time in a group, near the coast of the municipality that bears its name, a sort of reunion that according to those who monitor their activity, a long time ago it did not happen.
Roberto Pérez Cabrera, an expert from the Special Conservation Area, comments that this sighting is due to the absence of bathers and boats in the coastal areas of Manatí, as a consequence of the social isolation implemented as protection against the COVID-19.
"The closeness of the manatees to our station is one of the positive effects of incident control that we carry out constantly and with great rigor, says Roberto. These protocols preserve the values of the protected areas and merit the establishment of an inspection point to identify the access of those who circulate through these properties, much more so in the current epidemiological context.”
The expert added that his work team within the area faces important technological limitations, since they do not yet have the necessary means to carry out the studies that make it possible to determine the population of the mammal, also known as a sea cow. However, the Ecovalor project could guarantee in the future the necessary technology to carry out this monitoring.
The news about the observation of this species, considered among the most endangered, now enables the reactivation of studies about its behavior and habitat, and about what appears to be an expansion of its feeding and reproduction areas, which are thought to be concentrated in the interior of the bay of Nuevas Grandes, in the Manatí municipality.
Years ago, similar sightings had also been reported on the southern coast of Las Tunas, near the Cauto River, which corresponds to its natural habitat, located in low coastal areas, river mouths, estuaries, cays, mangroves or other places with calm waters.
Fishing with trawls, the impact of boat engines, illegal hunting, the destruction of seagrasses, climate change and water pollution are the main causes that have influenced the decrease in the number of these specimens.
The protected area of La Isleta-Bahía de Nuevas Grandes is a region of high endemism of Cuban flora and fauna, in which a dozen conservation and research projects are carried out, mainly of threatened species, such as the manatee.
THE MAMMAL I ALWAYS WANT IN MANATÍ WATERS...
Historians assure that the first information about the existence of manatees dates from 1492, in a Christopher Columbus expedition. It is a large animal and, although it has few predators in its natural environment, it is highly threatened by the irresponsible hand of man.
Despite having aquatic habits, and a conformation analogous to that of fish, due to its particularities, this specimen is similar to other mammals. It is also considered the only one of its kind completely herbivorous. It feeds especially on Syringodium, with cylindrical, soft and fine leaves.
Moving slowly and not showing aggressiveness makes it easy prey for poachers. It also plays very slowly. Manatees require five years to acquire sexual maturity. Females have a calf every three to five years, while the gestation period is 13 months, one of the longest in the animal kingdom. At birth, they weigh 35 kilograms and are 90 to 120 centimeters long.
Its meat is very tasty, more than that of pork, which also encourages indiscriminate and illegal fishing. They also say that in the manatee you can taste three types of meat: pork, cow and fish. The bibliography consulted does not justify this statement.
The species can reach a weight that ranges between 300 and 500 kilograms and a dimension of up to six meters. Its color is gray with pink interstices. The forelimbs of the legs are flexible: they use them as a rudder while swimming, and others to hold their food. The manatee uses its tail to propel itself and emits underwater sounds to communicate with its counterparts. It only breathes through the nose, so it emerges every three to five minutes to get air.
Many legends have been woven around this animal. Reality indicates that if predation is not ended, the manatee will increase the list of extinct species.