Who Are You, Anyway?

Identifying Individual Manatees
Have you wondered how scientists like Ranger Wayne and Cathy Beck identify one manatee from another in the field? It’s a fascinating process that all started with sketching a manatee's individual visible features, and now has gone to the level of a state of the art computerized photo database with more than a thousand manatees in it. In the end, though, it all comes back to what you can see.

Spinning Knife Blades
Fortunately for the scientists, each manatee has unique physical features that distinguish it from other manatees. Unfortunately for the manatees, most of their unique features are actually scars and injuries the manatees received in collisions with powerboats. The propeller of a boat is like a spinning knife blade under water.

Credit: USGS,Brd,Sirenia
If the manatee survives the boat strike, it is left with unique scars, which scientists use for identification.

When it strikes a manatee, the manatee is cut by the propeller blades, and may even lose a part of its body, like part of its tail. A boat motor can also cut a Manatee with a "skeg", which is like a vertical metal fin at the bottom of the motor.

Sketching the Scars
Manatee scientists photograph or sketch the scars and features of individual manatees so that they can be identified and studied. The most extensive identification system of this kind is the database maintained by Sirenia Project biologist Cathy Beck. Known as the manatee Individual Photo-identification System (MIPS), it is a computerized photographic catalog that currently includes over 1,400 wild Manatees.

Underwater sketching

On a different scale, Ranger Wayne takes photographs and maintains a Blue Spring "Scar Sheet", which shows drawings of the identifying scars and features for the manatees at Blue Spring. (You'll get the chance to use some of Ranger Wayne's scar sheets.)

And on an even smaller scale, if a scientist spots an unidentified new manatee, she will sketch a drawing of the scars right there on the spot--even underwater!