Meet A Manatee: Elaine
She Gives Gray Hairs to Ranger Wayne Hartley

Deep Dent
Elaine is a rambling manatee who likes to check out other warm water refuges in Florida from time to time. (Photo courtesy U.S. Geological Survey, Sirenia Project)

If you ever get a chance to visit Blue Spring State Park in the winter, you may not get to see Elaine. Unlike many of the Blue Spring regulars, she often skips a season or puts in just a few appearances. A manatee with a fierce independent streak, she’s given Ranger Wayne Hartley, who tracks the Blue Spring manatees, more than a few gray hairs.

Ranger Wayne Hartley
Ranger Wayne Hartley tracks the manatees at Blue Spring State Park. Because of her unpredictability, Elaine has given him more than a few gray hairs. (Photo by Terry Nearing.)

Elaine is the daughter of Emma, and she was born in 1985. Emma was also part of Save the Manatee Club’s Adopt-A-Manatee program and often visited the warm waters of Blue Spring in the winter. In September of that year, Emma made an early visit to the park accompanied by her new little calf, Elaine. Mom and calf also came back in December to spend the winter.

Sadly, Emma died the following summer of unknown causes. She was found in Shell Creek, which is only about four miles from Blue Spring State Park. Mother manatees nurse their calves for one to two years, and Elaine may have been a dependent calf at the time Emma died. Elaine was not with Emma when she was found, so she could have found a surrogate mother among one of the other females in the Blue Spring population. (This is not uncommon behavior as nursing mothers will sometimes adopt an orphan and allow it to nurse along with their own calf.) Or, as Ranger Wayne suspects, Elaine may have already been weaned at the time. "We were never too concerned about Elaine," says Ranger Wayne, "because Emma was one of our 'one year is more than enough nursing, thank you!' mothers."

It has been documented that many manatees have preferred habitats they return to each year. But manatees are individuals. Some manatees come back to visit Blue Spring each winter, and other manatees skip a season here and there to check out other warm water refuge areas in the winter. Elaine is one of those rambling manatees. It’s not unusual for her to be seen only a handful of times or not at all during the winter.

Elaine and calf
Elaine and one of her calves at Blue Spring State Park. (Photo courtesy U.S. Geological Survey, Sirenia Project)

Elaine now has had calves of her own, and their names are Ester, Elsie, and Yip. She also has some grandcalves: Eddy, Gordon, Eustis, Eric, Esso, and E-mail. And Elaine has a more recent calf, too – as of yet with no name. A couple of years ago, she brought her new calf to Blue Spring, just as Emma had done with her so many years before. It was great to see Elaine as – of course – she hadn’t made an appearance at Blue Spring the previous year. Elaine was in for 12 days that season, which was not many, considering she was accompanied by a calf. But we are grateful for any visits we can get. The following year she came back with the calf and stayed the season.

But this year? Well, you might imagine that Elaine would keep Ranger Wayne guessing. He recorded no visits to Blue Spring by Elaine this season. With her calf likely weaned, Elaine probably struck out for another warm water destination this winter. We wish her safe travels and a speedy return home.

You Be the Researcher: Look closely at Elaine's tail, and you will see the small, white scar on her "peduncle" or the narrow part of her body that attaches to her tail. This is one of the scars that researchers use to identify Elaine. (Photo courtesy U.S. Geological Survey, Sirenia Project)

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