National Geographic : 1969 Sep
One young female, Lavaliere, was a notori ous flirt. She was brazenly fond of "kissing" my mask and of chewing on my hands and diving suit. She once took the liberty of cuffing off my mask, albeit inadvertently, and of pulling me under with her flippers. At play, manatees touch muzzle to muzzle in what can best be described as a kiss (pages 350-51). This behavior is one facet of a whole repertoire of nuzzles, nibbles, nudges, butts, and embraces. The performance as a whole becomes a serene ballet, a slow-motion ritual of lazy posturings and positionings, twistings and turnings. This intimate activity is not necessarily performed in a sexual context; calves participate with adults, as do subadults with other adolescents of the same sex. This should not be interpreted, however, as meaning that manatees are normally gregari ous. Though cold weather forces them to congregate temporarily in the sanctuary of warm water, the sole lasting association is that between a mother and her calf. Other wise, manatees are most often found alone. Groups, when they form, usually consist of but two or three individuals. These asso ciations are unstable and ephemeral, lasting from a few minutes to a few hours. If you were to follow Hobe, say, on his daily rounds, you would soon appreciate that he owed allegiance to no one, that he joined a certain friend to feed, swam away with others to rest, cavorted awhile with a reluctant female, but spent most of his time idling, cruising, and exploring by himself. Seventeen Bulls Escort One Cow The one exception is the herd composed of a cow in heat doggedly followed by courting bulls. Such a herd may remain together for more than a month. Younger males come and go, but a nucleus of mature bulls is always present to escort the cow wherever she leads them. One day a cow and her train filed past me as if in review. There were 17 escorts in her retinue-nearly the entire male constitu ency of Crystal River! Throughout the antic performances of manatees, an alert snorkeler, if he holds his breath, will be treated to a weird serenade of chirp-squeaks, squeals, and screams-man atee talk. These high-pitched sounds are emitted in a perplexing variety of unrelated circumstances. They are apparently not echo locating noises, such as porpoises make, but seem to be associated with emotional states, especially alarm. One predictable vocal reac tion is the alarm duet between a mother and 346 Double insulation: The author ties off the entry chute of his outer suit, donned over a skin-tight inner suit to conserve body heat during a three-hour session of manatee watching. A grant from the National Geo graphic Society supported his pioneering underwater study of these increasingly rare coastal denizens. Ugly scars, carved by a speedboat's slash ing propeller, pattern the back of a lounging manatee. The animals often loll just beneath the surface, invisible to boatmen, and many bear marks of similar encounters.