Manatee Calf Rescued in Brazil
An assistant feeds Fontinho
Amancio, a student assistant at Aquasis, feeds a special milk formula to Fontinho, an orphaned Antillean manatee calf rescued recently in Brazil. Save the Manatee Club helped provide funding for his care. (Photo courtesy of Aquasis.)

By Artie Wong, SMC Staff Biologist 

Emergência! Emergência! The alarm sounded at Aquasis after the marine mammal rehabilitation center received a call in early October about an orphaned Antillean manatee calf stranding in Ceará, an area located in Northeastern Brazil. In this instance a newborn male calf, named “Fontinho,” was transported by Aquasis team to Centro de Reabilitação de Mamíferos Marinhos for immediate care. Aquasis’ primary responsibility is to stabilize rescued manatees, such as Fontinho, and prepare them for long-term care at the Brazilian government’s Aquatic Mammal Center or Centro Mamíferos Aquáticos (CMA), as it is spoken in Portuguese.

Two species of manatee exist in Brazil, the Antillean manatee (Trichechus manatus manatus), a subspecies of the West Indian manatee, and the Amazonian manatee (Trichechus inunguis). Antillean manatees are found in the coastal and estuarine waterways of Brazil, and Amazonian manatees are found in the waters of the Amazon River and its tributaries. At the mouth of the Amazon River, the populations can overlap.

Fontinho
Fontinho surfaces to breathe.
(Photo courtesy of Aquasis)

Experts consider populations of both Antillean and Amazonian manatees to be declining in Brazil. Hunting is a particular threat to the Amazonian manatee, and while the activity is declared illegal by the Brazilian government, education and enforcement are difficult due to the remote habitat of this species. The Brazilian government works closely with another non-government organization or NGO, Fundacão Mamíferos Aquaticos, to develop outreach initiatives and educational materials. The efforts by the government and the NGOs are essential to the protection of species in Brazil, whose recently released endangered species list has tripled to 627 species in the last 20 years.

Incidents of orphaned manatee calves in Brazil may be linked to the establishment of shrimp aquaculture facilities in estuarine manatee calving habitat. The loss of habitat is forcing some female manatees to give birth along the coast where wave action makes it difficult for newborn calves to stay with their mothers. In addition, the increased nutrient waste from the facilities has degraded water quality in the area, reducing the density of seagrass beds.

After nearly two weeks of care, Fontinho was given a clean bill of health and flown by the Ceará government to the Centro Mamíferos Aquáticos, which is located in Pernambuco, Brazil. He will remain at the center until he is old enough to be released. Save the Manatee Club contributed $1,000 to Aquasis for their manatee rescue and rehabilitation efforts to help care for Fontinho and other orphaned or injured manatees.

“We would like to thank Save the Manatee Club for the donation!” said Ana Corolina Meirelles, a Biologist and Program Coordinator for Aquasis. “It will certainly help us in manatee rescue and rehabilitation in Ceará and Rio Grande do Norte.”

Aquasis Team
The Aquasis Team: (l-r) Amancio, a student assistant who is studying biology, Veterinarian Marcia Picanço, Biologist Katherine Choi, Biologist Ana Carolina Meirelles, and Biologist Thais Campos (seated under the manatee). (Photo by Sarah Connor, Aquasis)

Aquasis is a non-government organization, founded in 1994, with the mission to promote research and actions for the conservation of natural resources and the preservation of biodiversity and endangered ecosystems in northeastern Brazil.  In the past 14 years, the Aquasis’ team has rescued 35 dependent manatee calves. Aquasis also rescues small cetaceans, performs necropsies, and conducts research on manatees in the states of Ceará, Piauí and Rio Grande do Norte. Currently Aquasis is collaborating with CMA and Projeto Cetáceos da Costa Branca, to determine Antillean manatee population distribution and critical habitat. Their web site is www.aquasis.org (Portuguese only)

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