Manatees, also known as "sea cows", were unharmed for hundreds of years before us, or at least not as badly as today. Native Americans in North America hunted them for food and skins. They didnít nearly hurt them as much as we do. Whatís very sad is that half the time, we donít even realize we are hurting them! The question is: How?
Manatees are harmless and slow moving. They are gentle. In fact, their peacefulness led to ancient sailors calling them "mermaids". Manatees have no natural enemies - except humans. We create three of their four major problems. So, how do we harm them?
Humans have been hunting manatees since before Christopher Columbus discovered the "New World" in the western hemisphere. While Christopher Columbus was the first European to see these gentle creatures, Native Americans hunted them to make war shields, canoes, and shoes from the manateesí skins. Mostly, they wanted the meat. One manatee could feed a whole village for a couple days.
When more settlers came here, they found out many more uses for the manatee. Some were Roman Catholics. They could not eat meat on Fridays. Only fish meat. During that time long ago, any animal that swam in the sea was considered a fish. So, manatee meat could be eaten without breaking religious rules.
There were other people who found manatees useful. They were the South American missionaries and the Spanish. They believed the manatees inner ear bones were very special. They were believed to have magical powers when crushed and swallowed. The ear bones were supposed to cure pains in the side of a person and reduce the pain of childbirth. They were also thought to make it rain in times of need. Today, in Central America and South America, the manatee bones are worn to protect people from evil. They are supposed to be good luck.
In the 1800ís, some museums paid up to $100 for the manatee skeleton or hide. The manatee became one of the most valuable animals for hunters, but that brought the manatee even closer to extinction.
Since 1893, Florida named the manatee a protected species. But that didnít stop poachers (illegal hunters). Poaching greatly increased during harsh times like the Great Depression and World War II. Manatee meat was considered a delicacy. That is why they were hunted then.
Next time you are about to throw some garbage outside, stop where you are! Manatees can get a serious infection or maybe even die because of human carelessness. When humans throw outside plastic six-pack holders, or a simple plastic bag, you could be harming a manatee or many other animals. If they swallow or get tangled up in these things there could be some serious consequences. Another reason is fishermen discarding fishing lines, old hooks, broken nuts, or other old, useless fishing tools. Those could lead to other terrible consequences.
Other Harmful Things
Flood gates and canal locks are another harmful thing to manatees. The water pressure can pin down or drown manatees, or sometimes even crush them to death. A closing gate could separate a mother from its calf, when the calf is too young to survive by itself.
Motorboats are harmful to manatees. Since manatees are so slow moving, they cannot get out of the way in time, even though they can hear the boat before it gets to them. Usually, the manatee will get hit by the boat, resulting in death or serious injury. In most cases, manatees die from cuts in the skin by the boatís propellers. Most manatees in Florida have scars or are deformed by hits with a boat. Scientists identify certain manatees by their scars. Boat accidents cause a quarter of the total manatee deaths. Scientist believe this might increase because the growing number of residents and their boats in Florida and other places.
If people would cooperate, manatees would not be endangered, and we would not have as many manatee deaths. So, letís all pitch in to help these harmless, gentle giants.