Avalon is the Founder of Conserve It Forward which can be followed on Twitter @conserveitforwa or Facebook at www.facebook.com/ConserveItForwardWithAvalon
People come from all over the world to Florida to see manatees, especially in the winter months because the manatees gather in the warm water here. Manatees are Florida’s state marine mammal and they’re also endangered. You are lucky if you get to see one in person. What isn’t so lucky is when manatees are found injured, or even worse, found dead. What happens then? Here is a different side of manatee conservation than what you normally hear about.
Earlier this year, I got to have an interesting experience. It starts with my friend who made a discovery at his boat dock. That discovery was a dead manatee. They called the FWC (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission), and when the biologists came to pick up the body, they explained there would be a necropsy. My friend was invited to be present at the necropsy and he asked me if I wanted to go to. I said, “YES! I would love that!”
So we learned that when a manatee dies in Florida and its body is found, it will go to a lab for necropsy. That’s an exam of a non-human body after death.
It was really cool! Seeing the inside of the manatees was very interesting, though my friend and I thought the smell was horrible. I was surprised by how little fat they had. Underneath the visible skin is a thin layer of fat, then a thick layer of muscle, then another thin layer of fat.
One of my favorite parts was looking inside the manatee’s intestines. Of course you can see the sea grass they eat, but you can also see if the manatee was hydrated or if it had parasites. If a manatee ingests litter like fishing line, you could see that, too.
The scientists take tissue samples to preserve and study under a microscope. This is called histology and it helps scientists in a few ways. They can find diseases that may not be obvious and they can also see if there have been any changes in the tissue of the manatee population over time.
These are just a few things examiners look for. Once the entire exam is done, they can figure out a cause of death for their reports. By looking at a lot of reports, they can tell what the main problems are for manatees. They share that information with the public, and then we can all be part of manatee conservation!
It’s sad when a beautiful creature like a manatee dies, but by studying its body, scientists can find ways to make life better for the ones that are still alive and those that will be here in the future.
For more information about manatees, and what you can do to help them, please visit: savethemanatee.org or myfwc.org