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Manatees, by Kristen and Christopher

We live right next to the manatees' winter home on the Crystal River in Florida. It's cool because they come up to us when we're swimming or snorkeling. Manatees love people, but people are actually their greatest threat. Speedboats often hit the creatures and the propeller blades hurt them. Researchers can identify the manatees using these scars. Now that we can tell the manatees apart, we want to know if these are the same manatees we saw last year?

What did we do?
Working with a researcher, we snorkeled in the river and took underwater pictures of the manatees. Back on land, we downloaded our photos onto a computer and sketched out each manatee's scars. Then, we matched up our pictures with the researchers' database photos from previous years.

What did we find out?
We learned that a bunch of manatees that live in the Crystal River are "return visitors." The manatees we took pictures of were already in the database. We noticed that one of the manatees had some new scars on its tail since its last visit, and we figured out that a mama manatee had a new baby that wasn't in the database before! Hopefully, in the future, we won't see so many new scars on the manatees. So, all you boaters out there, slow down for the manatees!

What can you do?
  • Was your first question "What is a manatee?" Learn more about this marine mammal by doing some Web and library research. Now write "manatee" in the center of a piece of paper and draw different lines connecting ideas to the manatees (i.e. habitat, characteristics, diet and behaviors) that you brainstorm. Based on your research, can you think of an investigation around these creatures' diet? Their migration patterns?
  • Now that you know more about the manatee, compare it with the animal that has been called its cousin, the elephant! Grab a friend and search for information on the two animals. How can they be cousins if one lives in water and one on land? Now state your case. Do you think it's a mistake? Write two lists, one with differences and another with similarities. This will help support your opinion!
  • Scientists say that because manatees are losing their Florida habitat, some are migrating further away. They head to the southern Louisiana waterway, where there are warm waters and more food. Find examples of other animals that have migrated away from their native homes. Why did they move? What natural phenomenan may have changed their original habitat, and what human conditions may have encouraged their move?
  • Use this manatee investigation as a science fair project idea for your elementary or middle school science fair! Then tell us about it!
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