The Manatee Scientists
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011
ISBN 978-0547152547
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  The Manatee Scientists: Saving Vulnerable Species
Scientists in the Field Series
written by Peter Lourie

In The Manatee Scientists, John Reynolds does an aerial count of manatees from the Florida sky; Lucy Keith spends a weekend rescuing manatees trapped in a dam in Senegal; and Fernando Rosas takes the author on an Amazonian boat trip, looking for a young manatee he released back into the wild, with emotional results.

These scientists are working hard to save manatees: docile, large, sea mammals who are eaten in some parts of the world, feared in others, and adored in still others. But factors such as human encroachment, disease, environmental hazards, and being hunted are causing their numbers to decline: they are an endangered species, in need of help.

Behind the Book

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.

Awards and Recognition

Oprah's Best Kids' Books 2012
John Burroughs Nature Books for Young Readers Award
Junior Library Guild Selection
Kirkus Reviews, starred review


“Like other books in this series, this is distinguished by clear, realistic explanations of scientific fieldwork and well-reproduced photographs, many taken by the author. The text, on the advanced side for the intended audience, is broken up by captioned photos, some mounted as snapshots. Overall, it lives up to the standards set by others in this stellar series.” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review) 

“The reliably excellent series brings us yet another high-quality title featuring scientists at work, here attempting to understand and protect the manatee. 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.” (The Horn Book)

“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.” (School Library Journal)

"The full-color photographs are nothing short of stunning. They provide images of the animals staring up at the looming helicopter, mother bears with cubs, and scientists carefully and almost tenderly working on the sedated bears.” (School Library Journal)

“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. … 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.” (

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