Crouched between mangroves with camera in hand, I maneuver clumsily toward the next clearing. Sweat beads on my forehead as I negotiate the protruding prop roots of the red mangrove. It is midday, and the air is moist and hot, despite the best efforts of a few low hanging grey clouds. My brother assures me they were here a minute ago. I curse under my breath as I think of several places I would rather spend my lunch break. I finally get through the mangrove, and emerge on a tiny strip of beach on the Placencia Lagoon. Nothing moves as I gaze across the expanse of brackish water. A few minutes pass in relative silence, the only sounds being the wind and the occasional car passing on the road. The first snout breaks the surface just as I am about to pack up and go home. And then another, followed by three more. They come up for air with increasing frequency, drawing nearer to where I stand in my croc-clad feet half submerged in water. At first it looks like the manatees are playing; that notion is quickly dropped when ‘play’ turns into a semi-violent embrace, complete with flipper and fluke (large tail flipper) slaps. They care little for the fact that they are being watched and photographed.
Apparently manatees are not very shy when it comes to sex. When a female goes into estrus and is fertile, she is pursued by a dozen or more male manatees. This mating herd will stay together for roughly 3 weeks; during this time she will mate with multiple bulls, and a year later, if all goes well, give birth to a single calf. Who’s the baby daddy? The only way to determine that is through genetic tests. But here in Placencia, we don’t worry about whether our manatees (or our people, for that matter) are born out of wedlock or not. A recent flyover confirmed a population of at least 500 manatees in Belize, the largest population of West Indian or Antillean manatee in the world! Even though the numbers are healthy this year, manatees are still very much an endangered species. We’re just glad that the manatees of the Placencia peninsula are doing their part to keep the environment in balance. And hopefully having a good time while they’re at it!
For all you manatee fetishists out there, here’s a link to the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aSwkX8dKai8
Article, photo and video contributed by Aaron Krohn