How smart is a manatee?

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For decades, manatees have been considered dimwits. This belief, born out of the fact that manatees have a small (orange-sized) and smooth brain which for an animal as big as a cow seems disproportionate, led scientists to consider manatees incapable of performing difficult tasks and to be not as valuable as dolphins in experiments with marine mammals. However, recent scientific studies have shown that manatees are actually smarter than previously believed.According to lab experiments performed with manatees in Florida, the animals are just as intelligent and adept at completing experimental tasks as dolphins. For instance, in an experiment to investigate the ability of a manatee to learn, a captive Florida manatee was able to master how to aim at the right loudspeaker from eight speakers lowered into the water. The experiment was designed to have the manatee aim at the sounding speaker in order to get treats. The manatee showed it could learn and perform the task successfully.

Complex brain

While the brain of a manatee seems too small to support intricate tasks, studies have revealed that a manatee’s brain is just as complex internally as the brain of any other mammal. This makes it possible for the manatees to learn to perform various tasks. In fact, manatees have learned to stop at underwater targets, respond to whistles and to distinguish various objects, sounds and colors. So the challenge to using manatees as experimental animals is not their ability to learn but the fact that they are difficult to motivate and move quite slowly.

According to Roger Reep, a neuroscientist at the College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Florida, the brain of a manatee functions just as well as that of highly intelligent mammals, despite the absence of folds (like in dolphins and humans). They hear well enough to avoid boats and can detect various kinds of sound when grazing underwater. While they have tiny eyes and the region of their brain that corresponds to sight is smaller compared to the tactile and auditory regions, manatees seem to see in color, a very rare trait for marine mammals. Nevertheless, they rely more on their sense of touch than on sight to detect different objects and current changes. The body and muzzle of a manatee is covered with sensitive hairs to help detect changes in the environment.

Tackling Manatee Accidents

While studies have revealed a completely different nature of manatees than previously thought, scientists are still not sure why the mammals keep getting hit by boat propellers and other watercrafts. At the moment, scientists think the manatees could be coming to the water surface while still asleep or they might have gotten too used to the sound of boats to pay attention, resulting in collisions. Because Florida manatees are an endangered species and their deaths from collisions with watercrafts pose more risk to the survival of the species, scientists are currently engaged in experiments to determine how well manatees can distinguish objects and colors, and how strong their sense of touch and hearing is. The findings of such experiments are likely to boost manatee protection and conservation efforts in the future, helping to reduce deaths due to collision with watercrafts.

At Captain Mike’s Swimming with the Manatees, we offer tours that are tailored to offer the most thrilling and memorable visits while making every effort to protect the manatees. We have captains that are fully trained on how to navigate the springs without interfering with manatees or their habitats. We also ensure that all those on board are trained and guided well on how to see, swim and interact with the manatees. For more information on how to plan the most rewarding manatee tours in Crystal River, Fl, visit the “Captain Mike’s Swimming with the Manatees” site


Swimming with the Manatees boasts the best water adventure in Crystal River, Florida with lots of things to do for you and your family. For more information, contact us online, or call us at (352) 571-1888.

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