Sea Nymphs

Hints of their presence are often sighted as we windsurf across the surface…

IT TAKE TIME TO TELL. Usually, three, sometimes four toenails adorn each flipper. Elephant toes, aquatic style. Manatees and elephants diverged from a common ancestor. Over 50 million years ago a four-footed, warm-blooded creature, maybe as small as a mouse, inhabited the marshlands. As its populations diverged, the evolving elephants opted for the land. The emergent manatee populations opted for water until the land was no longer a shared habitat. Evidence for a common ancestry has been found in the fossils of manatees, showing a progressive reduction in their hind limbs.

Manatee and elephant molars are similar. Anatomical, physiological, and biochemical similarities link manatees and elephants. Mammals like us, not hatched from an egg but nurtured within the mother until birth.

The reign of the dinosaurs ended with mass extinctions dating from 65 million years ago when one or more asteroids hit our planet. With the passing of so many reptiles, many mammals gained ascendancy. But giraffes and tigers, elephants and manatees, did not grow their tails and faces overnight. The evolution of a species is slow, durable, and functional. An elephant’s rail swats flies. Am manatee’s tail propels the animal through the water. Two entirely different  functions satisfied by evolution. Around 20 million years ago, the emergent manatee would have been recognizable to us had we existed. But, poachers continue to weigh the ivory, and not Nature’s loss.

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The first in-depth study of manatee behavior was by Daniel Hartman, who spent several years observing them underwater in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s in the Crystal River of Florida. Every other account of the living animals is too brief to be more than a passing glance at a creature loved but not loved enough by our own species to halt its extinction.


 

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When one compares creatures without possessions to human existence, trees seem poor houses, but it is the birds who command the view. Unencumbered, they travel by the stars, not by wheels and insurance policies, when the season changes. The planet is their home, not one bed, not one room in a dingy city full of strife.

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The manatees are increasingly subjected to the frenzied attention of divers becoming sea creatures themselves, but when day ends, the moon lights their affection for one another.


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What images you see are, for the most part, the happier side of the coin, not only for the manatees but for the divers as well.

The Crystal River in Florida is a name lingering out of the past. The crystal clear water is no longer clear.

Douglas Faulkner


Image captions:
Young Manatee and Jacks: Crystal River, Florida
Manatee Breathing: Crystal River, Florida
Curious Manatee, Female and Male (right): Crystal River, Florida
Manatees Playing with Calf: Crystal River, Florida
Diver Holding Manatee: Crystal River, Florida
Woman Reaching from Boat: Crystal River, Florida
Young Male and Older Male Manatee: Crystal River, Florida
Young Manatees: Crystal River, Florida
Manatees Feeding on Hydrilla: Crystal River, Florida
Mother and Male Calf: Crystal River, Florida
Female Manatee With Propeller Cuts: Crystal River, Florida
Barbara Bernie and Sunrise: Crystal River, Florida


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by Douglas Faulkner

Contributor Douglas Faulkner petitioned in front of the United Nations from 1981 to 1987 and successfully prevented Belau from becoming a US military base and a Supertaker transit port.

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