Monday, February 5, 2018
Manatee. [Photo: Wikipedia.]
I think that I shall never see
A thing as weird’s a Manatee.
In form, much like a giant worm
With skin so like a pachyderm;
A beast that makes God laugh all day,
Created, as it were, in play;
A Manatee whose back is marked
By prop of boat or tooth of shark;
With barnacle-encrusted bum;
Who lives in ponds with algae scum.
Poems are made by fools like me,
For fun, God made the Manatee.
Oh, those crazy manatees. Floridians love those suckers: sluggish, slothful aquatic mammals that are the direct opposites of the playful porpoise. In appearance, a manatee looks like a sort of mashup of a walrus, a seal, and a hippopotamus, but with far more docility than any of those species possesses. Maybe that’s the attraction for Sunshine Staters - hell, Jimmy Buffett is like a Tasmanian Devil compared to your average Sea-Cow.
It is said that mariners of bygone days would espy manatees floating lazily by and fantasize that what they were seeing were mermaids. This tells us a lot about the lack of qualified ophthalmologists amongst a typical ship’s crew, as well as providing us with a testament to what months of sexual deprivation at sea can do to the male imagination. Yeef on a reef.
This week, thanks to my cousin Diane and her hubby Charles, I had an opportunity to see all the manatees I ever need to see, all assembled in one place: the cooling water discharge canal at Tampa Electric Company’s Big Bend Unit 4 power station. In wintertime, when the temperature of Tampa Bay falls below ~68°F, manatees are attracted to the relatively warm water in the power station’s discharge canal. It’s a rare instance of a process that both adds to the human carbon footprint and yet is a direct benefit to wildlife.
Most human-manatee interaction doesn’t do the manatee much good. Motorboat propellers inflict a characteristic series of slashes on those unfortunate manatees that happen to get in the way, a problem compounded by the sluggishness of the beasts as well as their near invisibility when submerged just below the surface. But at Tampa Electric, it’s just dandy: the manatees obviously like the warm water and the company can put on a good face for the environmentalists. Yes, there are humongous stacks and all kinds of scary looking power plant equipment there, but to be fair, most of the stuff coming out of those stacks is just steam. And yet, there’s a sort of Distraction Vibe going on. (“Pay no attention to those giant smokestacks over there! Look! Another gentle creature of the deep!”)
And let me tell you: There are a lot of manatees in that canal.
Just a small sample... a manateaser, if you will.
The water was absolutely thick with the bastards. You could almost imagine walking clear across that canal by hopping on the backs of them, like aquatic stepping stones: That’s how many of them there were. I had seen maybe one or two in all my previous sixty-five years of existence and never imagined such numbers even existed. It was a veritabobble manatee mosh pit. The place was manateeming with ’em. The photo above doesn’t begin to convey how many there were - it’s just a tiny corner of an edge of a piece of the whole canal - but it gives an idea of the sheer density of their population.
But I learned a lot. Including a bunch of stupid manatee-related jokes. Enjoy.
Q: What does a manatee drink?
A: A Martanateeni. Salt water, gin, and a hint of vermouth. Garnish with a skein of algae and a barnacle shell.
Q: When do manatees go to the movies?
A: In the afternoon, of course.
Q: What do manatees wear in the summer?
A: Manatee shirts.
Q: What do manatees wear in the winter?
Q: What do manatees use to chew their food?
Q: What’s a manatee’s favorite color?
Q: Who do manatees root for in the Big Game?
A: The home manateam.
Feel free to contribute your own dopey jokes in the comments!