Watercooler Ammo: The Manhattan Manatee


Perhaps inspired by its hapless British counterpart, a manatee from Florida appears to have swum upstream -- way upstream, past Manhattan and several miles north into the Hudson River. Unlike the whale in the Thames, the manatee isn't in any danger as long as the water stays warm. It's normal for these creatures to take a summer vacation, though usually not this far afield. Manatee trivia abounds on the Internet; here's the best of it, from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission:

  • A manatee can move each side of its lip pads independently. This flexibility allows the manatee to "grab" aquatic plants and draw them into its mouth.
  • Manatees do not have eyelashes. Their eye muscles close in a circular motion, much like an aperture on a camera. They have a lid-like membrane (called a nictitating membrane) that closes over their eyes for protection when they are under water.
  • Manatees can hear very well, but they don't have external ear lobes.
  • Manatees have only six cervical (neck) vertebrae. Most all other mammals, including giraffes, have seven. As a result, manatees cannot turn their heads sideways; they must turn their whole body around to look behind them.
  • The manatee's pelvic bones are not attached to its skeletal frame. They're remnants of a time when manatees lived on land.
  • The manatee's lungs lie along its backbone instead of along its rib cage as is found in most mammals. The lungs are long (1 meter or more in adults), wide (20 cm), and thin (5 cm or less). Besides breathing, the lungs help the manatee with buoyancy control.

If you want to make like Jimmy Buffett and Save the Manatee -- not the Hudson River one, of course, just in general -- here's how. (Disclosure: I gave a disproportionate amount of my allowance to this club as a kid.)