Ever since the first edition in 2006 of The Florida Manatee: Biology and Conservation by Roger L. Reep and Robert K. Bonde, I’ve experienced heartfelt joy every time a manatee question of mine has been fully answered in the interesting pages of this book. Now, a second edition of the book is coming out soon with a tender photograph of a mother manatee with her young calf on the cover.
I remember every detail about this heartfelt encounter. Would you like to know more about this charismatic manatee mother and approximately two-week-old calf?
Here is their story. It was a cool start to the Spring Equinox, March 20, 2019. Cool but not too cold as these warm freshwater springs are cordoned off when the water temperature is too cold. My husband Theo, opted to spend his day on the boardwalk surrounding the lovely Three Sisters Springs in Crystal River, Florida. And as usual, I wanted to observe manatees underwater.
Over the years I’ve spent well over a thousand hours observing, photographing and videoing manatees with my head submerged underwater. I’ve seen a few teeny-tiny manatees, most notably a newborn calf on February 29, 2008 that was confirmed by researchers to be less than a day old. My heart still skips a beat when I see a young calf and when this mother swam into the springs on March 20, 2019 with her new adorable male calf, I was smitten! He had a cute white area around his upper snout so I dubbed him “Little Mr. Mustache.”
Notice his adorable white “mustache” in this photograph with his mother. The coloration will probably fade as he grows. You see why I called him Mr. Mustache! At Three Sisters Springs, March 20, 2019.
Three Sisters Springs, part of the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, was quiet this day. A few lucky swimmers got a glimpse of the little one while his mom swam him by. Folks on the boardwalk ooohed and aaaahed and a volunteer asked me how old I thought the little calf was. I told him I thought it was about two weeks old. Theo told me the head volunteer on the boardwalk remarked at how well I was keeping my distance from the pair. Everyone else in the water that day kept a respectful distance also and were very polite so no disturbance would occur. It was a beautiful, peaceful day and I was proud to be in the springs.
Speaking of disturbance, often other manatees with follow a new mother with a young calf. Dr. Bob Bonde once described it to me as manatee “curiosity.” Although, some times this “curiosity” from other manatees can amount to much-too-much if the calf is young and gets separated from its mother. Fortunately that is not the case here. This mother manatee had things well under control, even when a younger male manatee tailed the pair for several hours. Mother manatees are very adept at avoiding other manatees who get too curious. This is good as the safety of the little calf depends on the mother’s ability to bond with it and keep it safe. A small calf that is separated from its mother puts its survival in jeopardy. The mom pictured here was definitely a champ at keeping Mustache right beside her and avoiding any interlopers.
Here the male manatee is trying to impede the forward progress of the mother and little Mustache. Are mother manatees an easy target for amorous younger manatees? Maybe, but all we know for certain is the male is very curious. It is also apparent this mother manatee is adept at keeping other manatees at bay.
This male chased the mother and calf all around Three Sisters Springs. Here they are over Big Sister Spring bathed in some warm sunlight. Mustache’s mother never got flustered and seemed to just brush the male interloper off.
Young manatees such as little Mustache need to nurse often, sometimes as much as a few times per hour. It is important if one ever observes a manatee calf nursing to keep one’s distance. The little manatee’s wellbeing depends on peaceful bonding like this and adequate amounts of mom’s rich mik.
Here’s a short video I made that same lovely spring day. It illustrates what a wonderful manatee mom she is
Would you like to know who the mother and bothersome male manatee are? They are known manatees, catalogued by The Manatee Individual Photo Identification System (MIPS) at the United States Geological Survey.
Cathy A. Beck, Wildlife Biologist, Emeritus at the MIPS was kind enough to send me these IDs:
“The female is CR791. She was first documented (as an adult) in Feb 1998 and was seen with a calf in Jan 2006.
How fascinating and what a privilege it was to observe these manatees! Now Mr. Mustache and his devoted mom are on the cover of the most comprehensive text regarding the Florida manatee. The first edition of The Florida Manatee: Biology and Conservation was 154 pages; this new second edition is greatly expanded at 352 pages! About double the insightful manatee information! And if it is anything like the first edition, I found it extremely readable, even for someone who is not a marine mammal scientist. Everyone with an interest in manatees should own a copy. Till the end of March the publisher is offering 20% off a pre-order with code AU331. Here’s the link to place an order:
Remember to use code AU331 at checkout to get 20% off the print edition before the end of March. And, yes, it comes as an EBOOK also. May 11, 2021 is the release date.
I sincerely hope you enjoyed Little Mr. Mustache’s story or maybe another way to put it is “From the springs to the cover of the most comprehensive book about the Florida manatee.”
Mustache’s manatee mom must be so proud!