In Florida, Brazil, and Senegal, three scientists are working very hard to save the manatee. Manatees are docile, large sea mammals who are eaten in some parts of the world, feared in others, and adored in still others. But human encroachment, disease, environmental hazards, and being hunted, among many other issues, are causing their numbers to decline. Manatees are, in fact, an endangered species. John Reynolds, a manatee expert at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Florida and chairman of the United States Marine Mammal Commission for the past two decades, is among the scientists trying to figure out how to save the manatee, and move it off the endangered species list. It isn't as simple as just counting the numbers of manatees in the wild and seeing if the number goes up or down. There are countless factors that go into giving an animal a designation (and every known species in the world has a designation). But in the Amazon, for example, manatees are very difficult to spot, and are hunted for food. How do you get an accurate picture of what life is like for a manatee in Brazil, where Dr. Fernando Rosas studies the creature, when you might not even see one in the wild for months or years? And in Senegal and other parts of Western Africa, where young Lucy Keith is working hard to put together a network of people who share information about manatees, people fear them and hunt them. Conservation is not an easy goal for these three scientists, but their love and passion for the manatee drives them each day.
In The Manatee Scientists, John Reynolds does an aerial count of manatees in Florida and gives readers a basic overview of manatee biology and the new science being used to help with their conservation status; Lucy Keith is among the first to see bones of older manatees that were being kept by a legendary manatee hunter in Angola and has an adventurous weekend rescuing manatees trapped in a dam in Senegal; and Fernando Rosas takes his assistants and the author on an Amazonian riverboat trip, looking for a young manatees he released back into the wild, with mixed and emotional results. Scientists thousands of miles apart, sharing science and information with a common goal -- The Manatee Scientists is a perfect addition to our Scientists in the Field Series.
Publication: The Horn Book Magazine
Author: Ford, Danielle J
Date published: July 1, 2011
The Manatee Scientists: Saving Vulnerable Species [Scientists in the Field] by Peter Lourie Intermediate Houghton 80 pp. 4/11 978-0-547-15254-7 $18.99
The reliably excellent series brings us yet another high-quality title featuring scientists at work, here attempting to understand and protect the manatee. The three worldwide species of the mammal are threatened by human actions, including hunting, pollution, and recreational boating. We meet scientists Fernando Rosas in Brazil, John Reynolds in Florida, and Lucy Keith in West Africa, and accompany them on their investigations of manatees in the field and in captivity. Rosas and colleagues raise Amazon manatees, learning critical information through long-term observations of the mammals in their care. Reynolds studies Floridian and Caribbean manatee populations using observations from the air and advises on their conservation as chair of the U.S. Marine Mammal Commission. Keith pieces together information from hunters, collects bone and tissue samples from manatees across West Africa, and is working hard to establish a collaborative scientific network across sixteen countries. Each profile captures not only the science and politics of animal conservation but also the dedication and passion these scientists clearly feel for their chosen profession. Telling much of the story are Lourie's many photographs of the manatees in their various habitats, the scientists and their collaborators, and the children and adults in the communities that interact with the manatees. Particularly remarkable are the details visible in the crisp underwater shots of the manatees in Crystal River, Florida. Extensive additional information, including species profiles, further facts and resources, evolutionary origins, and a glossary, round out the text. DANIELLE J. FORD
July 1 School Library Journal:
Lourie’s readable text follows the efforts of research scientists in Brazil, West Africa, and Florida as they attempt to determine the habits, habitats, and behaviors of three large sirenians, two of whom live in very remote and often primitive areas. The fieldwork on West African and Amazonian manatees is complicated by the very murky water in which they live (Floridian manatees get pellucid aquamarine waters but more propeller slashes) and is further complicated by the fact they are hunted for food to supplement inadequate diets in isolated areas. The African studies are compounded by a variety of national political issues and some social unrest. Lourie’s lucid reportage is accompanied by clear color photos of the scientists at work in drowned rain forests, crystalline springs, muddy rivers blocked by dams, in the lab, and from the air. Quotes are imbedded as well, with Lucy Keith remarking patiently, “You have to really like challenges to do research in Africa,” and Fernando Rosas in Brazil explaining why local people love manatee meat. “They eat fish for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, so any change in this diet is welcome.” This is a living, breathing window into the watery world of manatee studies, with eager scientists pursuing the preservation of stressed sirenian populations with determination and grit.–Patricia Manning, formerly at Eastchester Public Library, NY
INFODAD.COM (The Manatee Scientists - http://transcentury.blogspot.com/2011/04/journeys-to-wild-world.html
One of the most interesting books in the always interesting series called Scientists in the Field, Peter Lourie’s The Manatee Scientists offers up-close-and-personal views of a genuinely strange animal that is both well studied and very little known: the manatee. This aquatic mammal, a distant relative of the elephant, has thick elephant-like skin (sometimes sparsely covered with hair) and only two limbs, which are generally tipped with nails (again, as in elephants). The limbs, toward the front of its ungainly body, propel the manatee through the water, usually at a slow pace (although the animals can swim quickly when they wish to) and usually with little regard for what is going on around or above them (manatees have few natural predators, although certain big cats, such as jaguars, are thought to hunt them from time to time). Because manatees are not so much fearless as fear-ignorant, and because their entirely aquatic life brings them into close proximity with humans using boats, collisions between manatees and human craft are common, with many manatees bearing scars and many others (at least in the past) having suffered fatal blows from propellers. Lourie not only studied manatees for this book but also photographed them, and the pictures are simply wonderful. There are three manatee species: West Indian (of which the Florida manatee is a subspecies), Amazonian and Antillean. The first type has been very extensively studied, and a great deal is known about it; it is also well protected by law and (increasingly) by custom in Florida, where it lives year-round. The other types, which live in more-remote locations and more-brackish water, are less well understood, although Lourie explain what is known about them and is able to show pictures of them as well. Lourie follows scientists who study manatees to remote and more-accessible locations alike, and discusses the way the marine mammals are regarded by natives of some of the areas where they live: “Some [West African] villagers believe the breath of the manatee can kill a person,” and a manatee hunter in the small village of N’Tutu knew a great deal “about their habitat use and their distribution in the area…[but] would never stop hunting [them].” Lourie concludes with a discussion of continuing controversies about manatees – for example, whether allowing people to swim with them puts a strain on them or helps them by giving people more knowledge of and respect for the animals. A thought-provoking, information-packed book, The Manatee Scientists reveals a great deal about a highly unusual creature – and, through its resource list, opens the door for interested readers to find out even more.