Manatees in Belize – Hunted

Manatees in Belize – Hunted

Music; Ambience: manatee

They’re called the gentle giants of the seas and they were once nearly hunted to extinction. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet. We’re listening to underwater vocalizations of West Indian manatees. One of the last healthy populations of these endangered marine mammals is found in Central America off the coast of Belize. Biologist Caryn Self-Sullivan works with the Earthwatch Institute to study these plant-eating, thousand-pound creatures. She says that over the past centuries, the slow-moving manatees have been an easy target for hunters.

“There are three manatee species. Millions of years ago there used to be a lot more species and we don’t know exactly why there aren’t as many today. However, today they are endangered because throughout history we’ve harvested them for food. Aboriginal people used them for subsistence, which meant they caught them and ate them and fed their community with them. But then during the 1600s and 1700s we discovered that they were a very good food source, and they could be caught and killed and kept onboard ships — and we believe that their numbers were drastically reduced as a result.”

Although manatees haven’t been hunted to extinction, it’s been market forces rather than human altruism which has saved them.

“They have been protected in many areas in Central America since the early 1900s. But the reason we stopped harvesting them commercially was not because of conservation but because their numbers had dwindled so much that there wasn’t an economic value anymore, you couldn’t get enough of them to have a commercial market.”

We’ll hear more about West Indian manatees in future programs. Pulse of the Planet is presented by the National Science Foundation. I’m Jim Metzner.

Manatees in Belize - Hunted

Manatees have been harvested for food throughout four centuries of human history.
Air Date:03/24/2004
Scientist:
Transcript:

Manatees in Belize - Hunted

Music; Ambience: manatee

They're called the gentle giants of the seas and they were once nearly hunted to extinction. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet. We're listening to underwater vocalizations of West Indian manatees. One of the last healthy populations of these endangered marine mammals is found in Central America off the coast of Belize. Biologist Caryn Self-Sullivan works with the Earthwatch Institute to study these plant-eating, thousand-pound creatures. She says that over the past centuries, the slow-moving manatees have been an easy target for hunters.

"There are three manatee species. Millions of years ago there used to be a lot more species and we don't know exactly why there aren't as many today. However, today they are endangered because throughout history we've harvested them for food. Aboriginal people used them for subsistence, which meant they caught them and ate them and fed their community with them. But then during the 1600s and 1700s we discovered that they were a very good food source, and they could be caught and killed and kept onboard ships -- and we believe that their numbers were drastically reduced as a result."

Although manatees haven't been hunted to extinction, it's been market forces rather than human altruism which has saved them.

"They have been protected in many areas in Central America since the early 1900s. But the reason we stopped harvesting them commercially was not because of conservation but because their numbers had dwindled so much that there wasn't an economic value anymore, you couldn't get enough of them to have a commercial market."

We'll hear more about West Indian manatees in future programs. Pulse of the Planet is presented by the National Science Foundation. I'm Jim Metzner.