DR. MARK T. LOWE: So are you ready to meet our manatees here at Homosassa?
WALI: Yeah, I’m ready to meet the manatees here of Homosassa.
DR MARK LOWE: This is Willoughby.
WALI: Hi Willoughby.
DR. MARK LOWE: This is – oh, I’ve got somebody behind me here – and this is our biggest girl. This is Rosie.
DR. MARK LOWE: It’s my day. I come in once a week and get in the water and give them their vitamins and then I can look at the animals and get an overview of their general health.
DR. MARK LOWE: I started working for veterinarians when I was about twelve, thirteen years old. And I’ve been a veterinarian for over twenty-six years.
DR. MARK LOWE: My first experience with manatees came in 1989 when I was called down to Homosassa to look at one of the manatees that had a little minor skin rash. I got in the water with her and was able to touch the animal and feel the warmth of her body. Then, you could start to see some of the personality, some of the things that they did and it was just, just fascinating. And it was like something just flipped a switch in me and told me that I had to do everything that I could do possibly to help them. And if you get a chance to look in their eye, there’s somebody in there.
DR. MARK LOWE: Each one of them has their own personalities.
One of the biggest problems in Florida here, is getting hit by boats. We have Amanda here who has some scars down her side.
WALI: Oh man, look at that!
DR. MARK LOWE: So we have a large public education program going on to try and educate the public.
DR. MARK LOWE: The animals in the order sirena are the only aquatic herbivores meaning they spend their life in water and only eat plants like dolphins and whales tend to eat you know fish and that type of thing. They eat all the sea grasses and the various aquatic vegetation and fresh water.
WALI: They don’t eat any meat at all?
DR. MARK LOWE: No. In the wild, manatees tend to graze on the average of up to 8 to 10 hours a day. Historically, they don’t think there have been really large number of manatees in Florida. But we did notice that during the 1960’s and 70’s we did notice that the manatee population look like it was declining, so they were one of the first animals to be put on the endangered species list.
DR. MARK LOWE: And the biggest problem that we have is you and I coming to Florida, building a nice home on the waterfront, and taking away a lot of vegetation, putting fertilizers on our lawns, that are running into the water and degrading the water quality so they don’t have as much plant growth.
WALI: Oh wow.
DR. MARK LOWE: At one time about 60 to 80% of the grass beds in Tampa Bay were dead because of pollution. It is starting to come back, which is real good for the manatees. So it’s mainly, a human problem of us messing up their environment.
WALI: Wow, bubbles in the water. I’ve done that, but it’s a whole nother show.
DR. MARK LOWE: Manatees do produce a lot of gas. (Wali laughs)
WALI: What are we feeding them?
DR. MARK LOWE: This is actually elephant supplement is made by a feed company for elephants and manatee’s closest relative on land is the elephant.
WALI:Get out of here! I thought it was a seal but it’s an elephant.
WALI: Can they smell underwater?
DR. MARK LOWE: Not really smell but we think they have some chemo receptors that…
DR. MARK LOWE: …that they can taste like water and get different scents in water.
WALI: Is this Rosie?
DR. MARK LOWE: Ya, that’s Rosie.
WALI: Hi Rosie! Good seeing ya.
DR. MARK LOWE: She’s one of our oldest manatees and last time we weighed her about 5, 6 years ago, she was over twenty five hundred pounds.
WALI: How long do they live? Like what’s their average life span?
DR. MARK LOWE: We think 60 to 70 years probably. The oldest one that we have in captivity we actually know the age on is fifty three years old.
DR. MARK LOWE: Manatees have been around for millions of years. And there’s a message that they’re trying to tell me - that every time I look, it’s this message of at least I feel, is just of serenity. Slow down, smell the roses, and be peaceful.