As we boated out to our campsite Tuesday afternoon, we surprised a group of at least 3 manatees in an open channel. The water literally erupted around the boat, and even though I had a camera in my hand, I was so stunned (and was also trying to count any noses or tails) that I didn’t get a picture. Unfortunately there was a strong wind and we didn’t have an anchor, so the boat drifted away quickly. We tried slowly moving back to the area, but they were either gone or sitting tight on the bottom (water was 7 meters deep there). Interestingly, nearby Pierre showed me some seagrass that he says grows throughout the lagoon, and that he says manatees like. No surprise there, but the surprise is that there is seagrass at all. There is almost no scientific literature on seagrass in West Africa, mostly because there isn’t much. So I collected a sample (photo below).
Sunset on the lagoon
We camped at Pierre’s family’s fishing camp (really just a cleared area in the forest) and did a night survey. We had a third sighting of a manatee in one particular small cove, which is the type of thing I’m looking for. Repeated sightings in the same place suggest frequent use, and therefore might be a good place to set nets to capture a manatee if we get funding to tag them here in the future. Which is something I really hope to do!
The net below is used for hunting manatees (called a Tangle net, because the mesh size is big and the manatee gets it’s head and flippers caught, tangles itself up and can’t escape), and is one of 5 such nets confiscated from the lagoon by the park EcoGuides here. It would be great to use it for a good cause- to catch manatees alive so that they can be GPS tagged and we can learn more about their behavior and distribution (where they go to find food, rest, day vs. night, dry vs. wet season, help us to get a baseline abundance estimate, etc).
Pierre (in the hat) and Brice (in yellow) check out the confiscated manatee net