Just about everyone is familiar with the rich mythology surrounding mermaids, the mystical half-human, half-fish creatures that inspired countless fairy tales.
But did you know that the fantastical sirens of the sea might have actually been inspired by the humble manatee?
Sailors and pirates may have spotted these mellow aquatic mammals, sometimes called sea cows, prompting tall tales about beautiful women living under the water.
In reality, manatees
are adorable, but don’t look much like beautiful women. They have much more in common with their closest land-dwelling cousin: the elephant.
Sea cows are also known for their sweet, easygoing nature — they have even been known to comfort critters lost at sea, like
this pit bull who made it through a scary experience with help from a new manatee friend!
In fact, these creatures have historically been so even-keeled and sweet-natured that it has gotten them into trouble in the past.
For many years, manatees were among the most endangered creatures in the United States, as a result of interactions between developing human industry and the peaceable and curious nature of the manatee.
Like many of their closest animal kingdom relatives, manatees are incredibly smart, with good memories and an innate desire to explore the world around them.
Tragically, however, this sense of curiosity caused havoc when humans first started to move into a key part of the manatee habitat, the Florida Everglades.
What was once nearly uninhabited wetland perfect for a wide variety of creatures became a tourist destination frequented by boaters.
Manatees, injured or even killed by the propellers of boats and the gradual reduction of their environment, suffered huge population losses.
By 1991, there were estimated to be fewer than 1,300 manatees living in the Florida area.
Fortunately, the dwindling population forced people to sit up and take notice.
Restrictions were placed on boating in the Everglades, limiting the risk for manatees to be killed or injured in a boating collision.
Measures have also been put into place to protect the brackish wetlands that the manatees live in from development.
While Southern Florida continues to be developed, lots of areas are now preserved for the manatees.
These measures have been a huge success overall. In the past 25 years, manatee populations have climbed steadily, growing by over 500 percent.
Now, after years of effort, manatees will finally be downgraded from “endangered” to merely “threatened.”
It just goes to show that, while we still have a ways to go to protect the manatee from danger, when humans step up to protect nature, we can really make a huge difference!
If you’re inspired to see conservation efforts like this one really make a difference, please check out organizations like
Save The Manatee Club.
To see these gentle creatures in action, check out the video below! And don’t forget to
SHARE and spread the word to your fellow animal-lovers on Facebook!
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