Can you teach a manatee?

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The manatee is a curious marine mammal that roams the waters of the Caribbean and Florida. It is a simple and docile grazer that is friendly to both humans and other animals. Like any other juvenile, a baby manatee looks up to adults to know where to go and where to eat. The adult manatees tolerate and protect young ones, helping them acclimatize and learn new things. Manatees adapt quickly to their environments and socialize easily with other new manatees and people. They can also bond and spend a lot of time together with other manatees and with people.

So can you teach manatees?

Manatees are not only smart and capable of learning, they also retain long-term memory and are able to use whatever they have learned to improve their lives and to have better and more respectful interactions with people and with other manatees. While they do not have great eyesight, they see in color and are able to recognize people. They also recognize sounds and voices and are capable of following instructions when delivered in a friendly, simple and consistent manner. Therefore, manatees can be trained to use whatever they have been taught to improve their quality of life.

How long does it take to teach a manatee?

It takes between two weeks and six months to teach a manatee to behave in a certain way or develop cognitive and long-term memory. For example, a manatee can be taught to form an association between food and a whistle. Over a period of at least two weeks, the manatee will learn that when the whistle blows it is time to eat and food is ready. A manatee that has mastered the art of association of one item (a primary enforcer) with another (a secondary enforcer) can be taught to come to his own individual target, such as elicit a whistle from his trainer once he touches the specific target (when feeling hungry). Manatees that have learned to reliably discriminate between individual targets or aspects of their environments can progress to more advanced training and behaviors.

The tendency to go left when stimulated

Various studies have been conducted to assess the vision and hearing abilities of manatees. Most of these studies started as an investigation into why so many manatees were being struck and killed by boat propellers even though the manatees were evidently capable of getting out of the way. The studies demonstrated that the problem is not that manatees have poor sight or hearing. In fact, manatees can clearly see boats and hear boat motors very well. The issue was found to be that manatees have a tendency to go left when stimulated. With this information, boaters have managed to save manatees by avoiding the left side where the manatees are likely to turn. So if you are kayaking or canoeing and see a manatee, you can avoid injuring the manatee because you are sure he will turn left.

Manatees can learn new behaviors provided they are treated tenderly and constantly to do such behaviors. They are also very curious and friendly and will most likely come to you when in the water. However, you should never disturb, harass or treat a manatee violently. For more information on how to get the most of your swim with the manatees trip, 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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