Book Review: Manatee Rescue by Nicola Davies

Manatee Rescue by Nicola Davies
Manatee Rescue by Nicola Davies

“Manatee Rescue” by Nicola Davies (Candlewick Press, 2015) is a middle grade (grades 4-8) children’s book about a rescued baby manatee in the Amazon. In the backmatter, we find out that this book is based on a true-life story.

There are three types of manatees, the West Indian, African and Amazonian. This book is about the ones that live along the Amazon River in South America.

The protagonist is Manuela. She grows up in a culture where killing manatees is a status symbol. She looks forward to the day when she can kill one alongside her father Silvio. Manuela and Silvio succeed in killing a mother manatee, but nothing prepares Manuela for the instant bond she feels for the manatee calf. She secretly vows to raise the calf and return it to the wild.

Manuela and her father take the two-month-old calf home, and Silvio sells the calf as a pet despite Manuela’s protests. Later that night, Manuela and her friend Libia steal the calf and bring it to Granny Raffy’s. Raffy often rehabilitates wild animals.

At Raffy’s, the two girls learn to take care of the calf, from nursing him to cleaning out his pond. Manuela bonds with the calf, who prefers her feeding him his bottle full of milk.

The two girls make a list of things to do, the most important ones (and seemingly impossible) being getting the villagers to care about and never hunt manatees again.

Without giving away the rest of the story away, I will say this book has a happy ending, both fictionally and in real-life.
The backmatter is informative not only about the manatees themselves, but also about the relationship between the natives and the manatees.

Although meant for kids, I think conservation-minded and animal-loving adults will enjoy this quick read (105 pages). It’s a perfect introduction to manatees and community-based conservation for all ages.

10 Fascinating Facts About Manatees

Manatee underwater with algae photo courtesy
Manatee photo courtesy

10 Fascinating Facts About Manatees

1. Manatees, despite being called “sea cows” are related to elephants!

2. Besides weighing a lot (1000 pounds or 454 kilograms, more or less), both elephants and manatees have fingernails.

3. Manatees like warm water (like off Florida, USA) and will migrate up river to warm springs and the outfall of power plants in winter.

4. Manatee calves nurse under their mother’s flippers and will stay with them for 1-2 years.

5. Manatees can grow up to 12 feet (3.7 meters).

6. Manatees are herbivores and eat sea grass and other water plants.

7. Manatees continually grow teeth throughout life since they wear them down chewing on plants.

8. There are 3 types of manatees-Amazonian, West Indian, and West African.

9. Manatees have prehensile (can grasp) upper lips which they use to get food and to eat.

10. Manatees can graze for up to 7 hours a day because adults eat 10-15% of their body weight a day!

Florida Manatees in 2013: Deadliest Year on Record

Florida manatees
Manatee calf nursing on its mother

Hi, my name is Flo and I’m a manatee. It’s nice that manatees are now respected by humans. Other than (hopefully) accidental boat strikes, humans are no longer trying to kill Florida’s manatees like when we were hunted pre-twentieth century.

I think it is a term of endearment that we are also called sea cows. We eat only underwater plants just like cows eat grass on land.

Manatees only frequent rivers and lagoons where the year round temperature is 72 degrees F (22 degrees C). I especially like the warm water outfalls of power plants! When those warm areas are under threat, so are we. Unfortunately last year (2013) nearly 17 percent of the Florida manatee population died. I feel lucky to be alive!

This record number of deaths was due for many reasons, including red tides, an unknown disease, and boat strikes.

Red tides occur when there is a potentially fatal algae outbreak. This outbreak starts out at the bottom of the food chain. This dinoflagellate slowly bioaccumulates up the food chain until large animals such as myself eat those infected organisms and possibly get sick or die.

Many manatees (at least 115) died of a mysterious illness that also took the lives of some dolphins and pelicans. This occurred in Indian River Lagoon.

Manatees are very vulnerable to boat strikes because we graze in shallow water. There are just so many boats out there. Plus we sometimes get stuck in fishing nets due to our slow nature, and because the water we live in isn’t always crystal clear.

Phew! Next time I promise not to be so morbid and I will cover more interesting aspects of manatee biology and behavior.