Mote Manatees Burn a Few Calories for Conservation Science

SRQ Story Project Partner Spotlight

BY SRQ DAILY WEDNESDAY PHILANTHROPY EDITION WEDNESDAY MAY 23, 2018

The resident manatees at Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium have been swimming against an Endless Pool water flume—a swimmer’s “treadmill” used by human athletes—for the first study of energetic costs in continuously swimming manatees.

Manatees Hugh and Buffett participate voluntarily in this project co-led by Mote and the University of California, Santa Cruz. The manatees were trained, using positive-reinforcement rewards like apples and carrots, to rest or swim at specific speeds and then breathe under an acrylic dome connected to an oxygen analyzer. By calculating the manatees’ oxygen consumption every minute and converting to calories burned, the researchers are investigating the energetic cost of healthy manatees in a controlled setting.

 “We want to better understand how much energy a healthy manatee burns, which gives us a better idea of the caloric intake needed for an animal of a given size,” said Senior Mote Aquarium Biologist Kat Boerner.

This baseline data can help inform wild manatee rescue, rehabilitation and research.

Wild manatees must swim to warmer waters during cold weather. “It’s important to know how much energy manatees expend while swimming to or between warm water refugia, and how that might affect the amount of food they need to maintain body condition during those times,” said Jason John, Ph.D. Candidate in the lab of Dr. Terrie Williams at UC Santa Cruz.

Williams and Dr. Joseph Gaspard initiated this project, in collaboration with a manatee expert at Mote, the late Dr. John Reynolds.

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