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manatee in water

SNRE graduate student leads the way in Cuban manatee conservation

By Hannah O. Brown

Anmari Alvarez-Aleman hitchhiked 40 miles to North Havana in the winter of 2007 in search of a sight that would guide her life in the years to come—a Florida manatee and her calf resting in the intake canal of a power plant.

“We realized [they were from Florida] because of the scars,” Alvarez-Aleman said. “In Cuba, manatees don’t have scars, so seeing a manatee with multiple sets of scars, it was kind of suspicious.”

Alvarez-Aleman sent photos of the pair to the U.S. Geological Survey, and the images matched with a female that had first been photographed in 1979, and again frequently after that date.

“She had different calves, and she was doing okay until she decided to swim south,” she said. “Maybe she got lost when she was heading south to find the warm water.”

This Florida manatee, named Daysi by the Cubans and CR131 in the U.S., is the first known to have wandered so far south that she ended up in Cuba.

“With my research, I want to explore more that situation,” Alvarez-Aleman said. “Whether there is a gene flow between Cuba and the U.S.”

Alvarez-Aleman is a doctoral student at the UF/IFAS School of Natural Resources and Environment with a mission to ask questions about Cuban manatee conservation that have not been asked before. Her account of the Florida manatee who traveled to Cuba was published in the Tampa Bay Times in December.

While a good deal is known about Florida manatee population ecology, Alvarez-Aleman faces several obstacles when confronting conservation issues related to the Cuban subspecies.

Read more about Anmari’s Cuban Manatee Research.