Manatee Family Relations

The mother manatee will nurse her calf for one to two years, and the calf may remain dependent on its mother during that time. The cow-calf bond is very strong throughout this period, as the mother teaches the calf important survival skills, such as migration routes, resting areas, and where to find food and warm water refuges.

 

Q. Do manatees have a strong kinship with their family members?
--Teresa Donegan, Tennessee

A. Manatees are semi-social, somewhat solitary animals. They sometimes gather in small, informal groups, but they have no leader or real herd structure. Manatees do not form permanent pair bonds like some animal species. After breeding, the male manatee has no further involvement with the mother or calf. The mother manatee will nurse her calf for one to two years, and the calf may remain dependent on its mother during that time. The cow-calf bond is very strong throughout this period, as the mother teaches the calf important survival skills, such as migration routes, resting areas, and where to find food and warm water refuges.

Not much is known about any association between mothers and calves after the weaning period. If there is recognition, it doesn't appear to go beyond the level of attention given to any other manatee. However, Wayne Hartley, Save the Manatee Club’s Manatee Specialist, has monitored generations of manatee families at Blue Spring State Park, and he has made some interesting observations:

  • After a manatee named Beetle was weaned, he would return every few days or weeks to visit his mother Phoebe.

  • Lily, one of Save the Manatee Club’s adoptees, nursed her calf Luther for two years. When she apparently lost her next calf, Luther – not some other unrelated manatee – began nursing from Lily again.

  • Sometimes when Wayne does his “Manatee Roll Call” at Blue Spring, he has noticed that every member of a manatee family will be in the same vicinity in the spring run. He speculates that this could be because, as a calf, each manatee became accustomed to the location his or her mother used in the spring run and so returns to it out of habit.

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