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Manatee (Sea Cow)

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manateeWhen the Florida manatees were declared an endangered species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, zoology instructor Charles Dailey decided to see if he could obtain a skeleton of an animal for Sierra College’s Natural History Museum. A call to the Florida office connected with the supervisor of the manatee project. He was about to turn the project over to the Florida Fish and Game Department. One of his last chores was to find a home for a manatee skeleton sitting in two boxes on his desk. Dailey offered to solve his problem. Soon it arrived in the mail. Fred McElroy, instructor of the Marine biology class, and two semesters of his students strung the vertebrae on a support rod and drilled the enlarged ribs and bolted them to the ribs. The ribs are as dense as ivory and when they exhale provide ballast to help them sink to the bottom of the river or pond to sleep for 10 to 15 minutes at a time. Numerous drill bits were melted while trying to drill the ribs. Dailey drilled the planetarium level floor and installed cast bolts and cables to support it slightly to the left side of the whale’s tail.

Like the whale, the manatee has evidence of an injury to the 9th right rib. It has three closely spaced holes in the dorsal surface of the rib but only one hole in the bottom. Apparently the animal was shot by someone with a high powered rifle.

Most of the energy of the bullet was absorbed as it shattered the rib. As the animal swam away the bleeding from the first bullet hole provided a target for a second bullet and then a third. The animal survived all three bullets long enough for the fractured rib to heal together, but it is now twice the normal diameter. The bullet holes never did fill in. Eventually the animal died, probably from either a prolonged infection and/or lead poisoning from the bullet fragments.

The teeth of the manatee, the anterior mammary glands and genetics all indicate they are relatives of elephants. The tiny pelvis is the remaining remnants of hind legs from terrestrial or semi-aquatic ancestors like the amphibious Desmostylus or Pezosiren.
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