By guest blogger, Lisa Gunton-Bunn, Sirenian International Supporter
I have had the honour of seeing peixe-boi or sea-pig, the local name for manatees in Brazil, on several occasions at Projecto Peixe-Boi, the manatee rescue and rehabilitation project Pernambuco, Brasil. Fueled by a passion to track down and observe a manatee in the wild, I dragged my long suffering husband around Brasil, Costa Rica and Belize searching for these elusive and gentle giants of the sea over the past year. We spent countless hours paddling in canoes and kayaks, or chugging slowly and carefully in small boats, hoping to see these obscenely cute, chunky, charming cows of the water. Occasionally we were rewarded with a brief glimpse of a snout, taking in a quick breath of fresh air, or a dark outline speeding away – yes speeding!! In an odd way this rapid avoidance pleased me as I thought, "maybe they are becoming more aware of the chronic dangers we humans can present."
On returning home to Brasil, somewhat disappointed not to have had more success sighting manatees, you can imagine my drop jawed countenance when, whilst we were out at lunch with some friends, there, right by the shore was a manatee - playing with a young lad at the water's edge. Stunned into silence (I promise you this a rare event), I waded in-clothes and all-to get a closer look.
As I stood in complete awe, watching this magnificent, elusive creature, in the living-breathing-close up whiskery flesh, my husband proceeded to shove me, firmly in the direction of the boy and the beasty, saying, "GO ON, all this time and now you stand their gawking, GET IN THERE!" Being an obedient soul, I waded further in and in my best pigeon Portuguese tried to ask the lad a few questions about his aquatic friend. Unfortunately I failed to understand much of his mumbled reply as he quickly moved away from the freaky foreign woman.
To my delight the manatee had no such problem with a language barrier and came closer. After he had snuffled around my feet, he lifted his head up and almost out of the water to look me over with his small, almost cloudy eyes. I carefully put my hand forward to let him choose whether to make contact and was rewarded with an enthusiastic but gentle investigation from his wonderfully soft yet stubbly snout. What a treat!
He played for some time to his audience - holding on to the sides of the small fishing boats, wrapping himself around them, allowing the small children to stroke him. This was obviously not his first visit and we were pleased to see that although everyone was enamoured with the manatee, they were also respectful and caring. I plan to visit this site again, with a friend to help translate. I am intrigued to discover more about the history between this particular manatee and the young man.