Mating Manatees Cause Traffic Chaos In Florida

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It sometimes feels as though Florida exists on a different timeline to the rest of us. Home to leprosy-addled armadillos, two-headed gators, and runaway 'roos, only in Florida would a teacher think it acceptable to drown a raccoon in class or authorities (accidentally) issue a mobile alert notifying residents to the presence of zombies.

The latest incident to grab headlines involves an aggregation of horny manatees. Yes, you read that right.

According to local news, a dozen or so of the frisky beasts have been seen off the Courtney Campbell Causeway in Tampa Bay, Florida, last Friday. The scene caused a commotion with several drivers pulling over to take a closer look, sparking a traffic jam.

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This is not the first time it’s happened. Indeed, ABC News reported a similar mating event at the same spot back in 2016. According to ABC, it’s a special occasion, taking place just once every three to five years.

Manatees are polygamous creatures and engage in “manatee mating balls” such as these, rather than form permanent pair bonds like, say, bald eagles. But these are not as much fun as the word “ball” implies – at least not for the female, who is hounded by a harem of up to two dozen males (or bulls) vying for her attention.

The orgy begins when the hormone-crazed bulls sniff out a cow in heat, thanks to all the pheromones her body is pumping out. Receiving the signal that she is ready to make manatee babies, they pursue her.

The result is a "mating herd" of manatees, who huddle around the lone female, hoping to out-wrestle their adversaries and reproduce. According to Live Science, the actual mating process lasts just a few minutes but these mating herds stick together for two to four weeks and involve a lot of thrashing about in the meantime.

It seems the process can get a bit too much for the poor female, with cows "in estrus" frequently spotted trying to beach themselves away from the bulls to put a stop to the violent mating extravaganza.

The bulls, on the other hand, seem to be having a better time of it. The more aggressive males edge their way into the center of the herd, where they have a better chance of mating. Those on the outside will instead hit on one other.

"They try to mate with each other," Iskande Larkin, a manatee researcher at the University of Florida, told Live Science. "They're pulling 'it' out all of the time."

These mating displays can take place throughout most of the year – as early as March and all the way through to November, biologist Kane Rigney from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission explains in the video below. And while it is certainly an interesting sight, he asks curious spectators to restrain from getting too close.

"We generally ask the public to stay away from mating herds," says Rigney, adding any interruption to the process risks the safety of the manatees and those of the individual. 

"Please just keep your distance and observe from afar. We urge the general public to puck up the phone and call the wildlife alert hotline if they see a mating herd."

FWC Fish and Wildlife Research Institute

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