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Florida’s Gentle Giant

Before addressing the main topic of this week’s Pet Chat Radio personal comment and subject of this week’s blog entry, I want to first mention that our special guest this week on Pet Chat Radio is Rob Rosenberg, pharmaceutical sales representative for a large veterinary pharmaceutical company. In my interview with Rob, he shares some very interesting insights into this prevalent aspect of the veterinary industry. Also, I wanted to give ample notice for my appearance on Dr. Arlene Barro’s talk radio show, Win Without Competing, my role will have changed, as I will be the one being interviewed live by host, Dr. Barro. The live broadcast will be Wednesday, August 12, 2009, and you can listen to it at:

On to my personal comment, as I have mentioned, I was just vacationing in the Florida Keys, the biggest enjoyment of which my wife and I derive from the natural beauty of the landscape and diverse and beautiful wildlife. From snorkeling the breathtaking coral reefs and taking in the diverse sea life, to kayaking the mangroves and feeding the tarpon at Robby’s Marina, it is the unique and diverse wildlife that keeps us going back (of course, the charming resorts, great food, and gorgeous sunsets don’t hurt). Of all the wildlife we see in the Keys and even up here occasionally in the Space coast, none are more captivating than the Manatee.

These gentle giants, and Florida’s official state marine mammals, are actually a large aquatic relative of the elephant. They are grayish brown in color with medium sized, black, expressive eyes and have thick, wrinkled skin on which there is often a growth of algae. Their front flippers help them steer or sometimes crawl through shallow water. They also have powerful flat tails that help propel them through the water. Despite their lack of outer ears, manatees seem to hear quite well.

Manatees can be found typically in the warm waters of shallow rivers, bays, estuaries and coastal waters, rarely going into water that is below 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Well known for their gentle, slow-moving nature, manatees have also been known to body surf or barrel roll when playing, and often are playful and curious with people, commonly swimming up to boats, kayaks and even swimmers for up close interaction.

As adults, Manatees are about 10-12 feet long and weigh between 1500 – 1800 pounds, supporting this bulk with an exclusive herbivorous diet of marine and freshwater plants. Their life span in the wild is about 50 – 60 years of age. The largest population of Manatees is in Florida, where they number about 3000.

Unfortunately this subtropical treasure faces many threats, including destruction and degradation of their coastal and freshwater habitats. The leading known cause of death is by boat strikes; propellers and hulls can inflict serious or mortal wounds. Most manatees have a pattern of scars on their backs or tails after having survived collisions with boats. Scientists often use these patterns to identify individuals. They have also been found crushed or drowned in flood-control gates and suffer harm from exposure to toxic red tide. In addition, a large number of manatees die from unknown causes each year.

Fortunately, although numbers have gradually recovered in recent years, Manatees remain a protected species, listed still as a federal endangered species.

Just one glance at one of these huge yet surprisingly graceful, gentle creatures, and one’s heart is instantly endeared to them. I encourage all of my blog readers and radio show listeners to take interest in their continued protection and preservation. To find out how you can do your small part to help this magnificent animal, visit the Save the Manatee Club at:

Roger Welton, DVM
Founder, Web-DVM

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