Meet the Manatees: Bertram and Bartram
First recorded twins at Blue Spring State Park

Phyllis the manatee and her twin calves
Above, Phyllis visits Blue Spring State Park with her twin calves Bertram and Bartram. Twins are rare for manatees. Females usually only produce one calf every two to five years. (Photo courtesy USGS Sirenia Project)

There was plenty of joy at Blue Spring the night that Bertram and Bartram were sighted. “It seems that Blue Spring may have its first set of twins!” wrote Ranger Wayne Hartley. It was the evening of August 19, 1991, and Park Biologist Joe Kenner had observed a mother manatee and her two – count ‘em, two – offspring in Lake Beresford. The mother manatee was soon identified as Phyllis, a young female and Blue Spring regular. “I was hoping Phyllis would have her first calf soon,” said Wayne, “but I didn’t expect this!”

Twins are unusual for manatees and had never been recorded at Blue Spring State Park, which was the underlying reason for all the excitement. The twins were soon named Bertram and Bartram, after an early naturalist and manatee researcher. To the delight of the Blue Spring visitors, Phyllis brought her twins with her when she came to park for the winter, and the trio spent a great part of each day in the spring run.

Bartram the manatee
Bartram, pictured above, is the larger of the two twins. (Photo by Wayne Hartley, FDEP)

Twins, But Not Identical
From the start, it was clear that the twins were not identical. After observing them for a number of days, Ranger Wayne reported that one twin, Bertram, had a medial notch, or natural dent, in his tail, and Bartram was the larger of the two. There was a difference in personality, too. “If one twin was near Phyllis and the other one was off playing, chances are the one close to Phyllis was Bartram and the calf in the distance was Bertram,” said Ranger Wayne.

This tendency to wander often got Bertram in trouble. One day, when he was just a few months old, Ranger Wayne discovered Bertram left behind in the spring run after Phyllis and Bartram had departed for the river. Ever self sufficient, Bertram nursed from another young manatee mother and when she and her calf left, Bertram went with her. A few days later, Phyllis and Bartram returned to Blue Spring, but Bertram’s adoptive mother didn’t bring him back until the next day. The reunited family stayed together for some time after that, but soon, Ranger Wayne noted, “Bertram could be found playing with his new sibling in the swimming area while his biological mother and brother slept many yards away down the run.” Three months later, they were nearly separated again. As Wayne was taking manatee roll call in the morning, he found Phyllis and Bartram at the mouth of the run, but again, no Bertram. Luckily, a park visitor spotted a calf at the spring boil. Sure enough, it was Bertram. This time, Wayne wasn’t taking any chances. “He got up there and probably was scared because of the strong current,” he said. “So I went up in the canoe and chased him down the run. Bertram must have been squealing all the way because his mother and brother came up to meet him.”

Lost and Found
The next season, Phyllis was in and still nursing Bartram, but Bertram was nowhere to be found and had not been spotted since May of 1992. It was evident he was missed – especially by Ranger Wayne. “Bartram is active and playful, always ready for fun and frolic, but he doesn’t match the extraordinary antics of Bertram,” he wrote. “I sincerely believe that sometime in the summer of 1992, Bertram separated himself from his mother again and joined up with a willing female who took him out of the St. Johns River and far to the south. He just hasn’t seen any reason to come here yet. But I’m still looking.”

Bertram the manatee's tail
When "Monroe" was waiting to be released, Ranger Wayne recognized him as Bertram by the medial notch, or natural dent in middle of his tail. (Photo by Jim Reid, USGS Sirenia Project)

Two years went by. Then, in July of 1995, a manatee named Monroe was brought to the park for release. He had been rescued as a calf in 1992 with a female named Phoebe, who later died from an infection. Monroe was also sick and spent the next two years in rehab at SeaWorld Orlando. As Monroe was being prepared for release, Ranger Wayne started taking identification photos. Suddenly, he noticed a small notch in Monroe’s tail. “I said to myself, now who would have such a notch?” said Wayne. “Then I remembered another manatee who not only had a notch in his tail, but his right flipper had some of the end shaved off. I stepped up to check Monroe’s right flipper, noticed the end was shaved off, and became very excited. I had found Bertram!” Turns out that Monroe a.k.a. Bertram had indeed found another adoptive mom in Phoebe, who was also his grandmother.

Lost and Found Again
Fitted with a transmitter, Bertram/Monroe, was released back into familiar waters at Blue Spring and didn’t seem to be any the worse for his adventure. But manatee researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Sirenia Project had trouble keeping tabs on Bertram, even though he was wearing a tracking device. The scamp managed to ditch two transmitters within weeks of being released, although he was still wearing the belt around his tail that had connected to the tether and floating transmitter. Once again, Bertram had gone astray. He was a “no-show” for the winter season that year at Blue Spring and was not reported at any other refuge.

Bertram the manatee is released at Sea World
Bertram is rescued at Blue Spring State Park in 1997 after Ranger Wayne noticed he was looking sick. Above, SeaWorld Animal Care staff monitor his respiration after capture. (Photo courtesy SeaWorld Orlando)

The following year, Phyllis arrived at Blue Spring in November with her new calf, Pepper. Bartram arrived a few days later, but still, no Bertram. Then, the day after Thanksgiving, Ranger Wayne went up the run. “I was out seeing the new faces the second cold front had brought in when I saw a manatee with an old belt on, “ said Wayne. “Then I saw freeze brand number 47 above his tail and cheered. It was Bertram again!” But Bertram didn’t look good. He was slim, missing a large chunk of his tail, and had a pretty bad – although healed – boat strike on his right side. Sirenia Project research data showed his scars matched those of a manatee reported at Salt Springs in the Ocala National Forest. “I’ve often thought manatees who failed to return to Blue Spring might be badly hurt,” says Wayne. “Rather than return to the park, they find a place to hole up until they heal. I think that was what Bertram did.”

Bertram now spends his winters either in Salt Springs or at Blue Spring or sometimes goes between the two. Bartram, of course, is a Blue Spring regular. “In recent years, they haven’t been doing anything really extraordinary,” says Wayne, “just coming in and going back out again. Both have missed some – Bert most of them, because he’s always up at Salt Spring when he’s not here.” Every so often, the “boys” will be sighted together. But they still have remained true to form. “When Bartram decides to stay the winter, he’s around quite a bit,” says Wayne. “Generally speaking, I’m going to find him right in front of the viewing platform over the water. But even when Bertram is here, you don’t see him often.”

Bartram always stayed close to his mother Phyllis, while Bertram tended to wander. (Photo courtesy USGS Sirenia Project)

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