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Manatees are native

By Staff | Feb 17, 2016

To the editor:

Based on my age and experience I thought I had heard or read about all I ever would have to know about the nonhuman vertebrates living in Southwest Florida.

Then, I remembered the words of more than one of my mentors, “Don’t believe anything you hear and only half of what you read.”

I am still laughing out loud after reading the Letter to the Editor in the Feb. 3 issue of the Island Reporter titled “Manatees are not native.”

To quote from the piece; “It sickens me that the public and, yes, our ignorant government calls them Florida manatees when the (sic) came from the West Indies to feed the workers that built the road going to Key West and, then they let them go.”

I can’t, for the life of me, figure out where the writer got the ridiculous idea that manatees are not native (as the word is defined) to Florida.

Frankly, I had never heard this one before; about the marine mammal’s importation to feed workers.

With access to modern Internet search engines, or a library for that matter, the writer of that letter could have easily fact-checked his sentence and he would have discovered the above quoted statement was incorrect and totally false.

I knew better, but I did a literature search anyway. Here are some facts: The manatee in our regional waters was indeed once known as the West Indian manatee.

Through DNA studies taxonomists (scientists who classify and scientifically name organisms) determined there was sufficient molecular evidence to separate the population living in coastal Florida from individuals of the same species occurring in the West Indies.

Those in Florida are now considered a subspecies; thence the acceptable common name, Florida manatee. As you blink your eyes, the same thing may soon happen to the Florida population of American crocodiles.

I didn’t have to go too far back in the literature because I remembered that 60 years ago in my teen years I read, Travels of William Bartram.

Bartram, one of America’s early great naturalists, explored East Florida (today the Florida peninsula) in 1774 and among the wildlife that he recorded observing were manatees.

I’m sorry to burst the letter writer’s bubble, but that was about 136 years before the Over-Seas Railway was opened and 164 years prior to when the “road going to Key West” was finished.

Charles LeBuff

Fort Myers