Manatee of the Month: Elsie

Variety is the spice of life for Elsie, known to frequent both the Tampa Bay and Ft. Myers areas in the winter. (Photo courtesy of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission)

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, that makes it easy for researchers to identify her and track her movements.

Have you ever wondered how researchers tell manatees apart? They can because most adult manatees living in the wild bear scars from boat hits or entanglement in fishing line. Manatee biologists use these scars to identify individual animals through photo-identification studies. 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

At left, a researcher's sketch of Elsie's scar patterns and, above, a photo of her disfigured tail. (Courtesy of FWCC)

By studying manatees over a period 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.

One thing we know about Elsie is that she travels along Florida’s west coast and is a frequent winter visitor to the warm water discharge areas at both the Tampa Electric Company’s Big Bend (TECO) power plant and the Florida Power and Light (FPL) plant in Ft. Myers. Apparently, variety is the spice of life for Elsie because she seems to vary location from year to year. One winter you might find her in Tampa Bay and the next year she’ll be hanging out near Ft. Myers.

Manatees gather at the warm water discharge area at Tampa Electric -- one of Elsie's winter haunts. (Photo by Suzanne Tarr)

Elsie is living proof that you can’t keep a good woman down. Despite her past injuries, she remains a traveler. On one occasion, Elsie and her calf made a trip from TECO to FPL in just 23 days. That’s a distance of 177 kilometers (110 miles)! She’s a manatee mom too and has had three known calves born in 1982, 1994, and 1999.


Get More Info!
The U.S. Geological Survey Sirenia Project, in cooperation with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, maintains a Photo CD-based computerized database of distinctively scarred manatees statewide. This database is called the Manatee Individual Photo-Identification System or MIPS. Currently, the MIPS holds nearly 2,000 records of individual manatees with unique features.