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Manatee hearing good enough to sense approaching motorboats
Date:4/11/2012

Grazing sea grass along the subtropical Florida coast, manatees would seem to have a peaceful life. But motorboats and other watercraft can injure the mammals, sometimes shattering their ribcages or leaving scars from collisions. Joe Gaspard from the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium, USA, explains that many factors put manatees at risk and it isn't clear why the animals are so vulnerable to human activity. For more than 14 years, Mote research has focused on how manatees use their senses to perceive their environment in an effort to understand the factors that put manatees at risk. Their studies have already shown that manatees' vision is poor, compounded by the turbid and tannic waters where they spend much of their lives. But can manatees hear boats? And can they hear them above the cacophony of sounds in their natural environment? Sound is absorbed less in water than in air, potentially allowing it to travel farther. It also travels five times faster in water than in air, theoretically warning the animals earlier of an approaching threat, Gaspard said. Teaming up with Gordon Bauer, Roger Reep and David Mann, and a group of trainers from the aquarium, Gaspard tested the hearing of two resident manatees, Buffett and Hugh the world's only manatees trained to participate in behavioural research and husbandry procedures to find out what they are capable of hearing. The discovery, published in The Journal of Experimental Biology at http://jeb.biologists.org, indicates that manatees can hear within the frequency range where boats operate but lead to new questions about why manatees remain at risk.

'Buffett and Hugh are very cooperative and picked up on the elements of the study quickly', remembers Gaspard, who worked with Kim Dziuk, Adrienne Cardwell and LaToshia Read to train the animals to swim down to a listening station 1 m beneath the surface. Switching on a light to indicate to the animals that a te
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Contact: Kathryn Knight
kathryn@biologists.com
44-787-634-4333
The Company of Biologists
Source:Eurekalert

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