Meet Elsie
She roams quite a distance along Florida’s West Coast

In the winter, Elsie has been known to visit the warm water discharge areas at power plants in Tampa Bay and Ft. Myers. (Photo credit: FWC, Megan J. Martz)

One look at Elsie’s tail, and you immediately know why she goes by the nickname of “Fingers.” Her tail has been so badly mutilated from an encounter with a boat propeller, it resembles the fingers on a human hand. Sadly, Elsie’s disfigured tail makes it easy for researchers to identify her and track her movements.

Biologists identify individual manatees by their scars. They observe manatees and take photos of them or make sketches of their scar patterns when the manatees are gathered at warm water sources in the winter and at various areas they frequent in the summer. This information then goes into a computerized database that is maintained by the U.S. Geological Survey's Sirenia Project in cooperation with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

Elsie the manatee's tail.
Scar patterns on Elsie the manatee.
Manatee researchers identify Elsie by her disfigured tail and the two large, white scars on her back. (Photo credits: top - FWC, Megan J. Martz; bottom - FWC, Jennifer M. Johnson)

By observing an individual manatee over the course of time, researchers can learn many things about migration, travel, important habitat and other behavioral factors, as well as determining life history aspects such as population trends. All of this information enables researchers to understand manatees better and is vital in helping to protect them.

Elsie often joins hundreds of other manatees that swim up the Caloosahatchee River to the warm waters found at the Florida Power & Light (FPL) Tice power plant. Other years, Elsie joins the manatees at Tampa Electric Company’s (TECO) Big Bend Power Plant in Tampa. She has also been spotted in Old Tampa Bay just north of TECO and at the Bartow Power Plant in St. Petersburg.

During the winter months, manatees rely on warm water sites including the FPL and TECO power plants because they only have a thin layer of fat to keep them warm. Without warm water, manatees suffer from a potentially fatal condition called cold stress syndrome. When the water temperature dips below 68°F, many manatees rely on the warm water discharge of power plants to survive. In fact, more than half of the west coast manatee population utilizes the FPL and TECO power plants as part of their winter habitat.

Another thing we know about Elsie is that she is a manatee mom, because she has been observed several times with calves over the years. Elsie has had five calves that we know of. And she must be teaching her calves to travel as well. On one occasion, Elsie and her calf made a trip from Tampa to Ft. Myers in just 23 days. That’s a distance of 110 miles! We look forward to learning about Elsie's latest adventure this manatee season.

Click here to adopt Elsie or other manatees in our Adopt-A-Manatee® program. It's a great holiday gift idea. For just $25, you'll get a photo, biography, and newsletter. If you adopt for $35 or more, you'll get a free manatee wall calendar and a membership gift.

Elsie the manatee.
On one occasion, Elsie and her calf made a trip from Tampa to Ft. Myers in just 23 days. That’s a distance of 110 miles! (Photo credit: FWC, Jennifer M. Johnson)

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