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Manatees communicate with one another using squeaks, squeals and chirps

manatee.jpg
extrabrandt / Pixabay
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More manatees have died already in Florida waters this year than ever recorded. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, 984 manatee deaths have been recorded so far in 2021, surpassing the previous record of 830 in 2013.

Most years between about 400 and 600 of the large, threatened, marine mammals die: mostly from boat strikes and the effects of red tide. But, this year more manatees are dying from starvation because of a lack of seagrass, which is their primary food source.

We explore why this year is turning out to be so devastating for manatees and learn about innovative research being conducted at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota exploring how and why manatees vocalize.

“If you have a pet, you know when your cat meows, you can tell by the meow whether it wants food, whether it wants attention, or whether or not it wants to go outside. And a similar thing is what we see in manatees. They may change the structure of their call just slightly depending on whether they’re playing or resting or feeding.”
Dr. Beth Brady

Manatees are part of the Order Sirenia, named for the sirens of Greek mythology—but that doesn’t mean they’re good singers. In fact, they sound like high-pitched mice. Sounds can help scientists detect hidden manatees in the environment, and with continued research, they could even give clues about how many manatees are present, what they’re doing, and more.

Listen to some of their vocalizations below:

Listen to a manatee's squeak vocalization
manatee sounds visualized.png
MOTE Magazine
Squeaks, high squeaks and squeals are the most common manatee calls. Manatees can produce each of them when feeding, playing or resting—often varying each call in relation to their situation or behavior. the pictures of these sounds, called “spectrograms,” are captured with special software. Hear recorded manatee calls at MOTE.ORG/MANATEESOUNDS.

Listen to a manatee's squeal vocalization
Listen to a manatee's high-squeak vocalization

GUEST:

  • Dr. Beth Brady is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow with the Manatee Research Program at Mote. She has studied manatees for over thirteen years and her research focus is on acoustic communication in manatees.
Tara Calligan is an award-winning journalist and a public media producer, writer and online content creator at WGCU. Twitter @TlCalligan