Double duty: for mother manatee.
A manatee gave birth to rare twins during April in southwest Florida, and as Mote Magazine went to press in early summer, the trio was getting along swimmingly.
The mother is Tomo-Bella, who has been documented by Mote Marine Laboratory's Manatee Research Program for more than 23 years. Mote scientists first observed Tomo-Bella in 1993 in Pansy Bayou near Lido Key. Since then, they have observed her 240 times in many parts of Sarasota Bay, along with Fort Myers during winter. In 1995, Mote documented Tomo-Bella with a calf--the first of ten she has been documented with so far. The 2016 calves are her first twins.
"We're excited to see that Tomo-Bella is contributing to the manatee population, and it's interesting to see twins from a female whose history we know so well," said Jennifer Johnson, staff biologist with Mote's Manatee Research Program. Manatee twins are rare, born 1.4 to 4 percent of the time in Florida manatees (Trichechus manatus latirostris). While it is possible for a healthy mother to support twins, there is little data on how twin calves fare in the wild.
"At more than two months old, Tomo-Bella's calves have been doing fine so far," Johnson said in late June. "Usually we see them doing what mom does. They rest together, swim together, and both calves have been seen nursing from their mother. Over time they will begin incorporating seagrass into their diet as well as continuing to nurse." Adult manatees are full-time herbivores. Southwest Florida residents might remember Tomo-Bella because she was rescued, along with her earlier calf, in 2012 from Grand Canal along Siesta Key. Staff from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and Mote rescued Tomo-Bella because she had a fresh wound on her head and was showing unusual behavior. She and her calf were rehabilitated at Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo, and Tomo-Bella was found to have toxins from Florida red tide in her blood. In September 2012, mom and calf were released after successful rehabilitation. Mote helped FWC and Lowry staff return the manatees to the wild from a boat ramp at Ken Thompson Park on City Island, Sarasota.
If you see manatees in the wild, please observe from a distance. Do not approach, attempt to interact with or feed manatees, which are protected under state and federal laws.
When boating, follow speed-zone signs and wear polarized sunglasses to see marine life in your path. Dispose of trash and fishing line properly to avoid entangling marine life.
Please report any distressed or dead marine mammals and sea turtles in Sarasota or Manatee County to Mote's Stranding Investigations Program, a 24-hour response program, at 941-988-0212. For other areas of Florida, contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission 1-888-404-FWCC (3922).