I have always loved the slow, peaceful manatee. Perhaps, there is something, in me, that relates to the comfortable, slow-paced, ease of life.
Here is a section of an article from the NY Times today. The article is by Erica Goode. I begin it several paragraphs down, and do not give the exciting ending. If you are interested, you can check the whole article out for yourself in the NY Times.
"Yet the conception of the simple sea cow is being turned on its head by the recent work of Roger L. Reep, a neuroscientist at the University of Florida at Gainesville, and a small group of other manatee researchers, including Gordon B. Bauer, a professor of psychology at New College of Florida, and David Mann, a biologist at the University of South Florida.
In studies over the last decade, they have shown that the endangered Florida manatee (Trichechus manatus latirostris) is as unusual in its physiology, sensory capabilities and brain organization as in its external appearance.
Far from being slow learners, manatees, it turns out, are as adept at experimental tasks as dolphins, though they are slower-moving and, having no taste for fish, more difficult to motivate. They have a highly developed sense of touch, mediated by thick hairs called vibrissae that adorn not just the face, as in other mammals, but the entire body, according to the researchers’ recent work.
And where earlier scientists saw in the manatee’s brain the evidence of deficient intelligence, Dr. Reep sees evolution’s shaping of an animal perfectly adapted to its environment.
Dr. Reep — a co-author, with Robert K. Bonde, a biologist at the Sirenia Project of the United States Geological Survey, of a recently published book, “The Florida Manatee: Biology and Conservation” (University Press of Florida) — argues that the small size of the manatee brain may have little or nothing to do with its intelligence.
Brain size has been linked by some biologists with the elaborateness of the survival strategies an animal must develop to find food and avoid predators. Manatees have the lowest brain-to-body ratio of any mammal. But, as Dr. Reep noted, they are aquatic herbivores, subsisting on sea grass and other vegetation, with no need to catch prey. And with the exception of powerboats piloted by speed-happy Floridians, which kill about 80 manatees a year and maim dozens more, they have no predators.
“Manatees don’t eat anybody, and they’re not eaten by anybody,” Dr. Reep said.
But he also suspects that rather than the manatee’s brain being unusually small for its body, the situation may be the other way around: that its body, for sound evolutionary reasons, has grown unusually large in proportion to its brain.
A large body makes it easier to keep warm in the water — essential for a mammal, like the manatee, with a glacially slow metabolism. It also provides room for the large digestive system necessary to process giant quantities of low-protein, low-calorie food.
The manatee must consume 10 percent of its 800-pound to 1,200-pound body weight daily. Hugh, 22, and Buffett, 19, captive manatees at the Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Fla., are fed 72 heads of lettuce and 12 bunches of kale a day, their trainers say. And in a 2000 study, Iske Larkin, a researcher in Dr. Reep’s laboratory, used colored kernels of corn to determine that food took an average of seven days to pass through a captive manatee’s intestinal tract — a leisurely digestive pace comparable to that of a koala or a two-toed sloth."