Every year around this time, the gentle manatees get a little aggressive – or at least the males do, as they chase down their favorite female partner to mate.
It’s going on right now at the mouth of the Belize River, and we had a front row seat today. Jamal Galvez is the Manatee Program Coordinator at the Coastal Zone Management Institute.
“What we have here is a mating herd of manatees. manatees mate all year round, but normally, we see them coming out during this summer time. I am not sure the reason why, but normally the female gets in heat and finds a lot of males, sometimes 20-30 males chasing one female at one point in time and they can go on for a week or two”.
Reporter: “What we see here, it is not courtship; it is actually the males trying to initiate pretty much by force, coitus”.
Jamal Galvez: “Unlike human beings, we have the privilege of choosing who we mate or who we date. Manatess don’t have that choice. It is the most dominant males who gets one. Sometimes you have a male fighting among each other or trying to get closer to the female. it is pretty much to see how aggressive they are. They are not necessarily trying to hurt, but trying to get closer to the female“.
The mating usually takes place in deeper waters, but because all that movement is rather exhausting, the female manatees tend to drift closer to shore for a break. Unfortunately, that puts them at risk to be run over by passing boat propellers. Galvez issues this warning to users of the waterway.
Jamal Galvez: “It is very important. We have about 20 manatees in this area, not too far away from the Belize River mouth, which we have the highest of manatee deaths as a result of water craft collision. So, we are begging, please be on the lookout. We don’t want them to be disturbed. They are still moving creatures and they are hard to move them out of the way, and when they are mating, they tend to gaze away. So, they don’t even respond to the boat’s presence. So, we are begging, please be on the lookout for these manatees on this area”.
The mating period can take up to two weeks. Manatees are a protected species under Belize law.