Manatees approached to our coast in Punta Cana (Dominican Republic) last June, where our Dressel Divers Bavaro friends were so lucky to dive with them. Scuba diving with the sea cows is amazing, they are so beautiful and friendly that come to the divers, allowing them to touch them and even dancing with them. They descend to the ground and start walking and jumping as dogs. It is a beautiful experience scuba diving with manatees! Something that we are able to do sometimes in our base of Bavaro, when they come for a few days and leave with the full moon. But, what is there behind this animals?
Once upon a time, according with the Homer’s famous novel ‘The Odyssey’, which Odysseus and his crew needed to resist the song of sirens. Voices where so hypnotizing that made vessels crash against the shore rocks in search of those beautiful women that were supposed to be singing. Also the first American conquerors had a sighting. “Sirens” bellowed Admiral Columbus in 1493 as they crossed the waters of Gold River aboard the Niña. They had seen three gray forms on the sea that went well beyond the surface. “They were not as nice as described, somehow their faces look like men ones,” they concluded.
This is how the legend becomes blurred and brings us back to these marine mammals, between 3 and 4 meters long, herbivores and incredibly friendly… Manatees! Confused in the past with sirens for its unique singing and size. Surely sailors at night could only see the tail of the animal after emerging to the surface, and from there created the mythological being.
Manatees are capable of swimming long distances, about 500 miles each season. Often they change places as the water temperature changes, following the same routes their parents made before, thus forming two categories: West Indian and East Indian. They like to live in shallow waters, in estuaries where rivers meet the sea, mangroves and kelp forests where food is plentiful.
A few years ago, a scientific group published an article in the journal ‘Zoology ‘ in which indicated that migration is due to the approach of new predators as the temperature drops. However, the scientific community does not consider this animal has large predators in their habitats. Perhaps the orcas may pose a danger to them. But above all, the greatest threat to manatees is on earth: man.
Unfortunately, sea cows are in danger of extinction. Specifically, the West Indian manatee is still suffering poaching for meat and bones, although the laws of all these countries forbid under penalty of imprisonment. They also suffer pollution of its rivers and lakes. In the East Indies and there are only 5,000 manatees.
The last time they came to our Bavaro base we also had a bad experience with a group of poachers. While we were doing our dive with manatees fishermen arrived with their boat. One of them jumped into the water with a spear gun and shot one of the manatees. We were diving with them, so everybody could see the attack! Fortunately for the manatee, the harpoon struck the remora he had in the back, killing the fish and leaving the tip stuck in the side stand of the animal. The wound was not deep, one of our instructors could remove the object. Back on the surface our team called the coast guard. The fishermen were arrested and brought to the justice.