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struction of their straight-walled tank precludes such efforts, as a rule. The male, however, has
recently been observed to make some slight attempts at terrestiial movement, turning himself
round and progressing a few inches when his tank was empty. With jaws and tail-fin pressed
closely to the ground, the body of the animal becomes arched, and is moved by a violent lateral
effort, aided and slightly supported by the fore-paddles, which are stretched out in a line with the
month." But the effect of these very labored efforts was not commensurate with their violence; in
fact, their relation to active locomotion may be compared to those of a man lying prone, with
fettered feet and elbows tied to side. Nor does the Manatee seem at all at ease out of water, as he
lies apparently oppressed with his own bulk, while he invariably makes off to the deepest corner
of his tank directly the water is readmitted." 2

ABUNDANCE OF THE FLOUIDA MANATEE. In the great struggle for life no animal is, in a man-
ner, more destructive than man himself. The fierce carnivora may prey upon tiie more peaceful

'CliAXK, AOXES, in Proc. Zoological Society of Londiiii. IHSO, pp. 456-457.
*Loc. oil., pp. 459, 4HO.


graminivora, but the attack must be made, one may say, in person, subject to all the dangers
attendant ii|ion an encounter with those weapons which a long course of selection has developed
ill tin 1 prey. Man ensnares alike the lion and the deer by the devices of his brain, with lit tie or no
danger to himself. Notwithstanding, the fleetest animals oftentimes csca|>e him and the strongest
intimidate him; but such drowsy beasts as the Sirenians fall helpless victims to his strategy. The
past century witnessed the extinction of one of these animals, the Hhytina, through no other
apparent agent than man. The inquiry intrudes itself, Will the Manatees succumb to the same
fate which overtook their huge relative!

It is undoubtedly a fact that the American Manatees an- much less abundant in many regions
than they were at the time of the discovery of America. They have withdrawn before the advance
of civilization into the more inaccessible places out of the reach of man.

In regard to the Floridan Manatee, the statement of Harlan (whoobtaiiied.it from Dr. Burrows),
made so laie as 18lio, namely, that tin Indian could readily obtain a dozen in a year, 1 is now doubt-
fully true. The statements of Mr. Stearns, given in the early part of this essay, show that it has
disappeared from some localities in Florida within a comparatively recent period. Nevertheless,
the Florida Manatee cannot yet be considered as threatened with extinction, and in Southwestern
Florida, if we may lielicve Mr. Maynard, is still abundant. S|>ecimens art' received from time to
time for our uiiksenms and zoological gardens, and to satisfy the curiosity of the gaping crowds at
the circus. The prices obtained for specimens of both American Manatees in this country and in
Kngland show, however, that they are not to be obtained without difficulty. 1

Gundlach refers, to the abundance of the Manatee in Cuba in the following t-rms: " In former
times very abundant ; at present much reduced in numbers, but not rare though difficult to capliiie." 3

According to Dr. Von Frant/Jus, the South American Manatee was abundant along the western
shores of the Gulf of Mexico, especially in Costa llica. "They are still very common," he says,
'along the Atlantic coast, where they find abundant nourishment in the numerous lagoons (Haff
IriltluHt/ni), and likewise the needed protection ; they pass into the rivers and are found abundantly
in San Juan and neighboring streams, the Uio Colorado, Sarapiqui, and San Carlos. Apparently
they are prevented from going lar into the San Carlos on account of the rapids which occur near
its month, and hence are not found in the Kio Frio nor in Lake Nicaragua itself." 4

ABUNDANCE OF THK SOUTH AMERICAN MANATEE. In relation to the present abundance
of Manatees in South America, it is perhaps unnecessary for me to enter into details here.
I'.randt has reviewed the subject at length quite recently, giving many particulars.'' His investi-
gations show that in many regions, particularly about the mouths of rivers and in other places
\\heie sufficient shelter is wanting, the Sea-cows are disappearing or have become entirely extinct.
In the upper waters of the rivers, however, where the native Indians are few and civili/ation has
not reached, little diminution is probable.

I'iKiiiAiiiLiTV OK EXTINCTION. Putting all the facts together, it seems evident that not many
cent uiics will pass before Manatees will be extremely, rare, especially in our own country. More
specimens should be accumulated in our museums, both of the entire animal and of its bones, and
its wanton destruction .should cease.

MODES OK CAI'TUHE. The methods of capturing Manatees are numerous. In Florida, Mr.
Goode informs me, strong rope nets, with large mesh, are often employed. The details of this

1 1 1 \i:i \ s : Fauna Americana, 1825, p. 277.

Trail*. Zoological Swii-ty London, xi, 1*0, |>. 21. Howards' <Jui<le to Florida. 1"7:>. |>

*GUNI>L\cil: Hi-vistu y Cat. lie lot* Muinili-nm riihanos. Kr|x-rt. FiMro-nal. ilr Ciiliii. ii, n<>. '-', 1*'*, P- 5fl

Vox KKANTZICS: Sangi-tliM-ro Cita liii-as. Arcliiv fur Xatnr^wM-liirlite. xxxv, i. IrtSH (f), pp. 304-ll>.

'UiiANirr: Symbol* Sirviiolojru-H'. (W. iii. l-*il-'<^, p. 2.">:.


method are given in the notes of an observer, Mr. J. Francis Le Baron, writing from Titusville in 1880.
His account of the fishery, given with much lullness, bears all the evidences of correctness. I may
be allowed to quote the part which pertains to my subject: "The manatee hunter aims to catch
the animal alive, and for this purpose quite an extensive outfit is required. It-consists, first, ot a
large seine net, about one hundred yards long and six or eight feet wide, made of ' spun yarn,' so
called, which consists of three or four rope yarns spun into one line, about the size of a Clothes-
line, and very strong. The meshes are fifteen inches wide. The head-line consists of a strong
rope, and floats made of wood, shaped like a double ended boat, are placed at intervals along this
to keep the top of the net near the surface of the water. The bottom is weighted with small
pieces of brick or stone, just enough to cause the net to hang perpendicularly in the water. A
large sail-boat is also required. The hunter, taking the net in the boat, proceeds quietly to the
part of the river frequented by the manatee, and keeps a sharp lookout for the animals, which
have a habit of passing up and down the river by certain points. If the lookout perceives a
manatee in the river above him he knows that sooner or later the animal will take a cruise down
the river, and he proceeds accordingly to stretch his net across the channel. One end of the net he
first makes fast to a small bush or twig, or, if no tree is available, to a stake driven for the purpose
into i he bank. To this the shore end of the net is fastened by a small cord secured to the head-
line, and the stake or bush before mentioned, care being taken to use a cord so small that in its
struggles it will be easily broken by the animal, for a reason which will appear hereatter. The
boat is then rowed across the stream with the other end of the net, and when the latter is stretched
to its full length, the boat is anchored and the net secured by a similar easily broken cord to the
boat in such a manner that the first struggle of the animal will be felt by the occupants of the boat,
being communicated by the cord to a tell-tale, or the cord is fastened to the body of one of the
hunters, who now go to sleep if night has come on, or perhaps while away the time by a game of
cards, keeping perfectly quiet. There are very likely several manatee in the river, and before long
one attempts to pass by the boat. His progress is of course arrested by the net, and his struggles
to force a passage are at once communicated by the tell-tale cord. Unsuccessful in his first attempt
to effect a passage, the manatee increases his efforts, and the result is that the slender cords holding
the net to the shore and the boat are broken, and the net with the manatee entangled drifts away
with the current. The frantic efforts of the animal only serve to closer enwind him in the meshes
of the net, which doubles and wraps itself around him closer and closer. It is now that the objects
of the light sinkers and slender holding cords are apparent. The manatee is a warm-blooded
animal and must come to the surface for air every few minutes. If the sinkers are too heavy, or if
the net is immovable in the water, he is unable to do this and is drowned. The large floats serve
now to show the hunters the location of the prey, and they bear down upon it and tow it with the
confined animal into shoal water. Here a large box or tank is ready. The net is unwound, ropes
are placed around the animal, and by the united efforts of the hunters, he is transferred to the box.
The box is then towed to the 'crawl,' which is an iuclosure formed by driving stakes close together
in the water with their tops projecting several feet above, and is generally near the home of the
hunters. The box is floated into the crawl and the animal let out. He is there kept and fed daily
until an opportunity occurs for shipment. This is made in the same large box, which is water-
tight and about half filled with water. Such is the method employed by the Indian Hiver hunters
for catching the manatee alive. It is, however, often shot with a rifle, from the shore or a boat,
when feeding or coming to the surface to breathe, but the hunter must be very quick and expert
with his weapon, as they show only one-third of the head, and that only for a second. The profits
of manatee hunting are large. The skeleton, if properly cleaned, will readily bring a hundred

IHI-: M.\N.\TKi:s: MODB8 OF CAPTURE. 125

dollars, anil (In- skin a like stun if t:ik<>n oil whole, IH-IIIU in demand by seientiMs for MIIIM-IUIIS all
ovo.- the win Id." 1

"So valuable an animal." says Wood, alluding more particularly to the South American
Manatee, "is subject to great persecution on the part of the natives, who display groat activity,
skill, and courage in the pursuit, of their arn]>hibious quarry. Tln> skin of the Manatee is so thick
ami stroii-: that the wretched steel of which their weapons are composed the ' machetes' or sword-
knives, with which they are almost universally armed, being sold in England for three shillings
and six pence per do/en is quite unable to penetrate the tough hide. Nothing is so effectual
a weapon for this service as a common English three-cornered file, which is fastened to a spear-
shaft. amll>iorc.es through the tough hide with the greatest ease." 2

Many of the early explorers give lively accounts of the manatee fishery in South America.
"Diners oilier fishes." says Oviedo. in alluding to the fishes of the Orinoco River, as quaintly
translated by Pnrchas, "both great ami small, of sundrie sorts and kinds, are accustomed to follow
In ships going vnder saile, of the which I will speak somewhat when I have written of Manatee,
which is the third of the three whereof I have promised to entreat. Manatee, therefore, is a fish
of the M'a, of the biggest sort, and much greater than the Tibvron in leng'h and breadth, ami is
very brutish and vile, so that it appeareth in forme like vnto one of those great vessels made of
Goats skins, wherein they vse to carry new wine in Medina ae Campo or in Arenalc : the head of
this beast is like the head of an Oxe, with also like eyes, and hath in the place of urines, two great
stumps wherewith he swimmeth. It is a very gentle and tame beast, and commeth oftentimes out
of the water to the next shoare, where if he findc any herbes or grasse, ho feedeth thereof. Our
men an 1 accustomed to kill many of these, and diners other good fishes, with their Crosse-bowes,
pursuing them in Barkes or Canoas, because they swim in manner aboue the water, the which
thing when they see, they draw them with a hooke tyod at a small corde, but somewhat strong.
As the fish fleeth away, Archer letteth goe, and proloageth the corde by little and little, vntill he
have let it goe many fathoms: at the end of the corde, there is tyed a corke, or a piece of light
wood, and when the fish is gone a little way, and hath coloured the water with his bloud, and
feeleth himselfe to faint and draw toward the end of his life, he lesorteth to the shoare, and the
Archer followeth, gathering vp his corde, whereof while there yet remaine sixe or eight fathoms
or somewhat more or lesse, he draweth it toward the Land, and draweth the fish therewith by
little and little, as the wanes of the Sea helpe him to doe it the more easily: then with the hclpe of
the reste of his companie, he lifteth this great beast out of the Water to the Land, being of such
bignesse, that to couvey it from thence to the Citie, it shull be requisite to haue a Cart with a goixl
yoke of Oxen, and sometimes more, according as these fishes are of bignesse, some being much
greater then other some in the same kinde, as is scene of other beasts: Sometimes they lift these
fishes into the Canoa or Barke without drawing them to the Land as before, for as soone as they
are slaine, they flote aboue the water : And I beleeue verily that this fish is one of the best in the
world to the taste, and the likest vnto flesh, especially so like vnto beefe, that who so hath not
scene it whole, can iudge it to be nother when bee seeth it in pieces then very Beefe <>r Vealo. and
is certainly so like vnto flesh, that all the men in the world may herein be deceiued : the taste
likewise, is like unto the taste of very good Veale. and lasteth long, if it be powdred: .-<> that in
fine, the Beefe of these parts is by no means like vnto this. Tl e Manatee hath a ci-rtaim- stone, or
rather bone in his head within the braine which is of qiialitie greatly appropriate against the
disease of the stone, if it be bin ni and ground into small powder, and taken tasting in the morning

'LE BAHON: In I-W.-st ami Sin-am, xiii. 1880, p. 1005, 1006.
'WOOD: lllustraloil Natural History. MaiiunaN. |>.


when the paineisfelt, in such quantities as may lye vpon a peny with a draught of good white
wine. For being thus taken three or foure mornings it acquieteeth the griefe, as diners haue told
me which haue proved it true, and I my selfe by testiinonie of sight doe witnesse that I have seen
this stone sought of divers for this effect." 1

Du Tertre, whose narrative we have already several times quoted, gives an account of the
mode of capture, which has all the tokens of accuracy. He writes :

" Three or four men go in a small canoe (which is a small boat, all of one piece, made of a single
tree in the form of a canoe). The oarsman is at the back of the canoe and dips the blade of his
paddle right and left in the water in such a way that he not only governs the course of the canoe
but makes it advance as swiftly as if it were propelled by a light wind or under reef. ' The Vareur
(who lances the beast) stands on a small plank at the bow of the canoe holding the lance in his
hand (that is to say, a sort of spear, at the end of which a harpoon or javelin of iron is fastened).
The third man, in the middle of the canoe, arranges the line, which is attached in order to be paid
out when the animal is struck.

"All keep a profound silence, for the hearing of this animal is so acute that the least noise
of water- against the canoe is sufficient to cause it to take flight and frustrate the hopes of the
fishers. There is much enjoyment in watching them, for the harpooner is fearful lest the animal
escape him, and continually imagines that the oarsman is not employing half his force, although
he does all that he is able with this arms and never turns his eyes from the harpoon, with the point
of which the liarpooner points out the course he must follow to reach the animal, which lies asleep.

" When the canoe is three or four paces away the harpooner strikes a blow with all his force
and drives the harpoon at least half a foot into the flesh of the animal. The staff falls into the water,
but the harpoon remains attached to the animal, which is already half caught. When the animal
feels itself thus rudely struck it collects all its forces and employs them for its safety. It plunges
like a horse let loose, beats the billows as a negro beats the air, and makes the sea foam as it
passes. It thinks to escape its enemy, but drags him everywhere after it so that one might take
the harpooner for a Neptune led in triumph by this marine monster. Finally, after having dragged
its misfortune after it, and having lost a great part of its blood, its power fails, its breath gives out,
and being reduced to distress, it is constrained to stop short in order to take a little rest ; but it
no sooner stops than the harpoouer draws in the line and strikes it a second blow with a harpoon
better aimed and more forcibly thrown than the first. At this second blow the animal makes a
few more feeble efforts, but is soon reduced to extremities, and the fishermen readily drag it to the
shore of the nearest island, where they place it in their canoe, if the latter is of sufficient size."^

Barbot, after quoting the account of the fishery by Acufia, in the quaint translation which 1
shall quote on a following page, adds some valuable notes on the commercial transactions which
are carried on in connection with salted Manatee meat. He says:

"The ManatPs flesh used at Cayenne is brought ready salted from the river of the Amazon*;
several of the principal inhabitants sending the barks and brigantines thither with men and salt
to buy it of the Indians for beads, knives, white hats of a low price, some linen, toys, and iron
tools. When those vessels are enter'd the river of the Amazons, the Indians, who always follow
the Manati fishery, go aboard, take the salt, and with it run up the river in canoes or Piragtiux to
catch the ManatVs; which they cut in pieces, and salt as taken, returning with that salt fish to the
brigantines; which go not up, because the Portuguene who dwell to the eastward, at Para, and
other places of Brazil, claim the sovereignty of the north side of that river, and give no quarter

iPnrchas big Pilgrimes, iii, 1625, pp. 887, 988.

3 Du TERTRE: HiHtoire des Antilles, ii, 1667, pp. 200, 201.

TIII; MAN.MT.F.S: < .\ri i I;K. 127

to the l-'r<'ii<-h or other l-'iiKipcnnx they ran lake in tlii'ir liberties, whicli has occasional many
disputes ami quarrels bet wren them. as I shall observe hereafter.

"That controversy was decided by Hie tieaty of I'tiei-ht; in the year 1713. The Portiigneite
some \e;u-s since designing to settle on the west si<k- of the Amazon*, cruelly massacred many, who
bel'oie used to yo nninoleste<l, anil consequently inisti listing no danger.

"The brigantincs having got their lading of salted Manati, return to Cayenne, and sell it then",
commonly at three pence a pound." 1

"The tlesh of the Manatee being much esteemed," writes Descourtlitz, in 1800, from his own
observations, "and its fat never becoming rancid, the negroes employ many means to destroy
them, sometimes by the use of nets, in the places where they teed, sometimes by shooting them
from canoes; more commonly they harpoon them when they are able to approach sufficiently
near, but as the animal, although seriously wounded, does not die immediately, they let out a cord
in order not to lose so precious a prey, which one sees reappear at the surface of the water, drowned
and lifeless."*

PRODUCTS FUKNISIIED BY MANATEES. The Sirenians possess the quality, most fatal to
them, of furnishing palatable food for man. The huge Sea-cow of Bering Sea disappeared IVoj.i
this cause, and the Dugong, the Sirenian of the Indian Ocean, and the Manatees sutler not less on
the same account. For the Indian of South America the Manatee is a fund of wealth. On its
flesh he subsists, with its oil be anoints himself, from its skin he makes shields and cords, in its
bones he finds medicine. The early explorers were not long in discovering its virtues. Ilerrara.
gathers the following estimate of its importance from their accounts of America:

"The Taste of it is beyond Fish: when fresh it is like Veal, and salted like Tunny-Fish, but
better, and will keep longer: the Fat of it is sweet, and di.es not grow rusty. Leather for Slims
is dress'd with it. The Stones it has in the head 3 are good against the Pleurisy and the Stone." 4 .

Rochefort is not less impressed with the good qualities of the animal. He exclaims: "Among
all the fishes there is none having so good flesh as the Lamantin. Two or three of these beasts
will till a large canoe, anff the flesh is like that of a land animal, firm, pink and appeti/.ing, and
mixed with fat, which being rendered never becomes rancid. When it has been two or tlnee days
in pickle, it is better for the health tli'an when eaten entirely fresh." 5 He also gives some very
good advice in regard to the use of the ear bones for medicine. "The superstitions," he sajs, -'lay
great store by the stones which are found in the head, because they possess the power, they say,
when reduced to powder, to stop the formation of calcareous deposits, and to remove those already
formed; but, since the remedy is very violent, no one ought to use it without the advice of a wise
and experienced physician. 1 "

I'.iet mentions the Manatee tirst in his list of the fishes [tic] of the He de Cayenne. Alluding
to the flesh, he says: "It is ver. excellent, and although one may have other provisions, it will be
preferred to beef. Its fat, also, is as sweet as butter, and can be used to advantage in all kinds of
pastrx, fricasees, and soup-."

Barbot seems to have summed up all that was known of the Manatee of South America up to
his time, early in the eighteenth century, and quotes, also, Father Acufia, in a translation which,

1 IUnnoT: (>i>. ril., |>. !>(.

In -i ciritn IT/. : Vi\^e il'tin Natnralistr. ii. 1HK), ]>./<(!.
1 Tllr rar lionrs.

1 Hi I:I:.M:A : History <>f Ainrrira, i, 17'2. r ), p.278.
ROCIIKKOUT: Xal. llistoirv tlrs ll<-n Antilli-R, -M <<!.. IfifiS, p. 195.
Ijv: cil., |i. lll.">.
'BlKT: Voyage " I'll'' <!' < a.M-ini.-, IOG4, H>. W>, 347.


according to my notion, is preferable to that of the Hakluyt Society. Having alluded to its small
eye, but quick ear, and to other characteristics of its organization, he says:

"The flesh of this creature is excellent, very wholesome, and tastes very much like veal of
Europe, when young: for the biggest are not so delicate and agreeable to the palate. Their fat is
hard, and very sweet, as that of onr hogs; the flesh resembles veal. It dies with very little loss
of blood, and is not observ'd to come upon dry land; nor is there any likelihood it should,
considering its shape, as in the cut, whence it is concluded not to be amphibious.

"The Spaniards about the island of St. Margaret, or Maryarita, called the Manati Pcce-Bury,
that is, Ox Fish; and particularly value the stomach and belly part of it, roasted on spits. Others
cut long slices of the flesh of its back, which they salt a little, only for two days, and then dry it
in the air; after which it will keep three or four months. This they roast and baste with butter,
and reckon delicious meat. A gentleman has assur'd me, that at Jamaica they give eighteen pence
a pound for young Manati. At Cayenne it yields but three pence a pound salted.

" F. Christopher de Acunna, in the relation of his voyage on the river of the Amazon*, chap. 25,
describes this fish as follows:

"The Pece-Buey, says he, is of a delicious taste; any one that eats it, would think it to be
most excellent flesh well season'd. This fish is as big as a heifer of a year and a half old; it has a
head and ears just like those of a heifer, and the body of it is all cover'd with hair, like the bristles
of a white hog; it swims with two little amis, and under its belly has teats, with which it suckles
its young ones. The skin of it is very thick, and when dressed into leather, serves to make
targets, which are proof against a musket bullet. It feeds upon grass, on the bank of the river,
like an ox; from which it receives so good nourishment, and is of so pleasant taste, that a man is

Online LibraryG. Brown (George Brown) GoodeThe fisheries and fishery industries of the United States (Volume 1:1) → online text (page 26 of 146)