This blog was created to allow the public to follow two manatees, Rita and her calf Georgie, as scientists track them after their release back into the wild. Please return for weekly updates.
NOTES FROM THE FIELD – WEEK 3:
Using wildlife tracking receivers, signal attenuators and a hand held ‘H-antenna,’ the tracking team were able to pick up strong VHF signals from within the Great Harbour Cay marina, indicating that Rita and Georgie were either in the marina or outside, in the harbour. We found both tagged manatees a few feet away from the marina office on the south side of the marina. Georgie was observed nursing and being very social with her mother, Rita. Acoustic recordings, photos and videos were collected from this encounter.
Early morning Argos satellite locations indicated that Rita and Georgie were still in Great Harbour Cay harbour. Overnight they traveled throughout the harbour and in the morning we found them feeding in an area known as a feeding site used by the resident Great Harbour Cay animals. Both tagged animals spent the majority of the day feeding in this area. After checking on Rita and Georgie, the tracking team went to search the harbour for the four resident manatees but was unable to find them.
The rest of the day was spent talking to local and visiting boaters about manatees and how important it is to maintain idle speed when traveling in the harbour. “Slow Down” manatee signs have been placed in various locations throughout the harbour and on the island. These signs were provided by the Save the Manatee Club.
|The tracking team putting up|
"Slow Down" signs during the
first week of tracking.
|Manatee posters provided by |
Save the Manatee Club
posted at the local Clinic office.
Shortly after 9am, a quick walk on the balcony made our tracking work easier than expected! A manatee head came peeking out from under a boat tied up next to the house and sure enough it was Rita! Both, Rita and Georgie spent the majority of the day feeding just in front of where we are staying. They were observed feeding on brown algae and sea grass and resting at the surface. As local boats slowly entered and left the harbour, the manatees continued to feed in the same area, with little visible reaction to the noise from the boats idling slowly past them.
After confirming that the manatees were in the harbour, we spent the morning working on educational materials for an upcoming visit to R.N. Gomez All Age School, here in the Berry Islands. The primary level students will be introduced to basic manatee biology and have the opportunity to see the tags used on Rita and Georgie.
By 4pm, Rita and Georgie presumably had a belly full of food and began to head out of the marina towards the harbour. We watched as they traveled towards another feeding hotspot just outside of the marina’s entrance, and then moved back into the marina where they remained for the next hour.
This was a great day for not only the locals but for boaters to see the animals in their natural environment and realise how important it is for them to drive slow in the harbour.
In the early morning, satellite locations showed that Rita and Georgie had left the harbour and were heading north along the west coast of Great Harbour Cay. They traveled to Lignum Vitae Cay where we believe they were feeding on the sea grass beds in the area. After a few hours in this area, they continued around to the east side of the island and began traveling down the east coast of Great Harbour. This route is very similar to the route they took during their first week in the Berry Islands. Manatees have very good memory and rely on it to navigate to areas they have visited in the past.
Kendria and a local fisherman, Alvin Rolle, spent the afternoon traveling by road along the east coast to track Rita and Georgie. Tag signals were picked up for both animals but Alvin and Kendria were unable to see the animals from shore.
At 10pm, satellite locations indicated that Rita and Georgie had turned back around and headed back north towards the east side of Great Stirrup Cay.
Team members Delano Springer (Dolphin Cay, Atlantis) and Olivia Patterson (Friends of the Environment) headed back to Nassau and Abaco today. Both are involved with educational outreach in their “real” jobs and their learning experience with the manatees at Great Harbour Cay will provide excellent material to share with young Bahamians and help generate interest in marine mammals in The Bahamas.
Russell Morgan (Dolphin Cay, Atlantis) returned to help Kendria Ferguson (BMMRO) with the field tracking. In the morning they headed north to Lignum Vitae Cay to check on Rita and Georgie.
The tagged manatees were found hugging the coast line where they were feeding on seagrass. Initially, the tracking team thought that Rita and Georgie were by themselves but were surprised to find the juvenile male was also with them.
This area has become a feeding hotspot for both tagged manatees as they have visited this cay on numerous occasions since their re-introduction into the wild.
High south winds prevented the tracking team from getting an early start in tracking Rita and Georgie up north. Instead, they spent the morning working on the ‘Manatee Blog’ and preparing for their upcoming school visit.
Later that day we welcomed, Kelly Sweeting, a scientist from the Dolphin Communication Project in Bimini. Shortly after her arrival a shift in wind direction allowed the tracking team to go search for Rita and Georgie. Tag VHF signals were being picked up from within the harbour but because they were not as strong signals as they would have been if Rita and Georgie were in the harbour, the tracking team then headed out of the harbour cut to search for them. As we got out of the cut and started to head north the signals were getting stronger, which prompted us to slow down and search within the area. Rita and Georgie were found hugging the coastline and heading towards the harbour entrance.
With a few boats on their way into the harbour, the tracking team used this time to direct the fishermen and tourists as they entered. By surprise, Russell also noticed that there were a few animals ahead of Rita and Georgie also making their way into the harbour entrance. We believe Rita and Georgie may have been following the other manatees or were previously with them.
At 6:30am, Argos locations showed that Rita and Georgie were just north of Bullocks Harbour. High winds would prevent the tracking team from heading on the water to search for Rita and Georgie.
Jimmy Darville, a local fisherman, informed Kendria that there were three manatees on the backside of the causeway. This mangrove system is linked to the harbour and can be accessed by the manatees by swimming under a bridge. On their way into the Bullocks Harbour, the tracking team saw Jimmy fishing in the area and the juvenile male just a few feet away from his boat. Gina and her calf, JJ, were also in the mangrove system observed to be feeding and resting.
A plot of the locations of Rita and Georgie via Argos satellite shows their third weeks' movement around Great Harbour Cay; arrows indicate direction of travel from Great Harbour Cay harbour to Great Stirrup Cay.