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Explore Florida's Banana River--such an appealing journey!

A certain mouse may dominate the image of Central Florida, but an entirely different set of critters is ready to capture your attention. For a walk on the wild(rife) side, a visit to the Banana River Aquatic Preserve is a must-do. Of course, boating is more likely than walking, as the preserve comprises some 30,000 acres (approximately 46.4 square miles) of submerged lands.

The Banana River itself is a significant part of the Indian River Lagoon, a 156-mile long estuary that is home to more than 479 species of shrimp and crab, 400 species of fish, 260 types of mollusks, reptiles such as the American alligator, Atlantic green turtle and Eastern indigo snake, and birds including the little blue heron, the roseate spoonbill and the least tern. As one of the most diverse estuaries in the United States, the Indian River Lagoon is demarcated by the Ponce de Leon inlet, in the north, and Jupiter inlet, in the south.

Among the most popular inhabitants of the Banana River are manatees and bottlenose dolphins. Both mammals spend much of their time under water and can flourish in this quintessential Florida landscape with its hunched mangrove ("walking trees") marshes and beds of shallow seagrass.

Sea Cows and Mermaids

The Florida manatee is one of two subspecies of the West Indian manatee (the other being the Antillean manatee whose habitat ranges from Brazil to Mexico and includes the Caribbean islands). Slow-moving, gentle and uniquely shaped, manatees are a herbivorous, migratory animal.

Although sometimes called sea cows, manatees are more closely linked to elephants and hyraxes (a small hoofed mammal native to Africa). Under optimal conditions, experts believe that manatees can live for 60 or more years. Unfortunately, this is often not the case. Manatees face the ongoing loss of habitat as well as often fatal encounters with watercraft, fishing lines, trapping equipment and other manmade structures. Only 3,000 or so West Indian manatees currently flourish in the United States.

Both the state of Florida and the U.S. federal government have enacted legislation to protect these animals that once were thought to be mermaids including the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act and the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act.


The Toothed Whale

Of the more than 30 different species of dolphins, the bottlenose is likely the best known. Named for its short, stubby beak, the bottlenose is a familiar presence at aquatic shows and in the media. Bottlenose dolphins are also frequently sighted on the Banana River as they enjoy a ready food supply and relative safety.

Dolphins belong to the scientific family Delphinidae, which is part of the Cetacea order. Interestingly enough, pilot whales and orcas ("killer whales") are also Delphinids, and dolphins themselves as known as "toothed whales."

While dolphins do not have vocal cords, they are able to create sound through their nasal passages. Bottleneck dolphins can crick and whistle, creating sounds that resemble grunts, squeaks and creaking doors. Each bottleneck also has its own distinctive whistle. And while the communicative talents of dolphins are well known, there is no scientific evidence that an actual dolphin "language" exists.

A Day on the Water

The opportunity to enjoy the sights and sounds of the Banana River, and its eclectic inhabitants, is an option for all NACM Credit Congress attendees and their guests. Simply sign-up for the Dolphin and Manatee Encounter, scheduled for Monday, June 15 and prepare for an educational journey like no other. Guests will explore this unique ecosystem aboard a covered pontoon boat in safety and comfort. Boxed lunches and binoculars will be provided.

See the immediately preceding pages for more information on the 113th Credit Congress & Exposition.

Laura Redcay, NACM publications manager and staff writer, can be reached at
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Title Annotation:extra credit
Author:Redcay, Laura
Publication:Business Credit
Geographic Code:1U5FL
Date:Apr 1, 2009
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