An attempt at understanding manatee conversations

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The usage of sound in animal conversations in nature, especially mammals, is highly cryptic. Understanding the nature of animal calls, their dispersion over space with time takes a lot of patience, study, and research. The nature of these animal calls hence allows us to comprehend animal behaviors. But not all calls are easy to disintegrate and understand.

The same can be said where manatee calls are concerned mainly. Previously thought to be significantly silent in nature, the manatee communications were thought to be limited exclusively as parent-child conversations only. When compared to other information that we have about marine communications, the manatee chat knowledge seems to be a quiet little insignificance. But, recent research has added some more to what we know, and it looks like that manatees are not as quiet as previous researches thought them to be.

The Cetalingua project

While manatee chat may not be as limited as previously thought, it is not as frequent as other animal calls of aquatic habitats. Hence the purpose of calls, limited with the range of their communication and differing personal vocals requires understanding.

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Therefore, to enrich the knowledge of these animal calls, nicknamed manatee chat, a citizen science project was launched that has been featured on Zooniverse.

Scope of the project

This citizen science project has a varying reach of information that needs to be found. It has been used to establish the relation between varying parent-child conversations. Previously thought to be only communication that ever goes in the manatee habitat, there might be more that can be understood about these animals and their nurturing natures.

The Zooniverse website has a video where the high pitched manatee chat sound can be heard, and speculations are if it is a single manatee calling or if it is an interaction between two.

The plan has a collection of sounds that were made available for the citizen science project and varying sounds that were analyzed by people and apprehended.

The project spans over two phases. The first phase is where people help to classify between the different sounds of manatee calls and eating noises. For aiding this project, spectrograms have been used, which are a graphical representation of sound and its frequency. The second phase focuses on distinguishing between the calls of specific animals and their discernible calls.

Findings of the project

The very first and most common finding of the citizen science project is that several people reported the manatee chat sounds being similar to bird calls. Though these high pitched animal calls might not be what you would expect from these 4m long animals, it is yet a mystery why the sound of manatees is so shrill.

The sounds collected over time from the Manatee Rehabilitation Center, Tampa Zoo, are also unexpected in the fact that higher frequency sounds travel only a short distance. Only if the sounds were less pitched, these large animals could converse over a larger space area. The 1200 citizen scientists of this project have identified some surprising calls and a few sounds that are not yet classified. A few video clips have surfaced portraying group manatee calls, but the conversations are not yet deciphered.

Manatee conservation attempts

The Cetalingua project, open for future scientists, also aims at understanding why these animals of excellent hearing capacities fall victim to boat strikes. Other areas open focus on navigation science, the capacity of remembering fellow manatees met over the years, and alarm calls recognition.

The manatees of Florida are yet suffering from boat crashes, but are the restoration is going on with continuous attempts. With more compassionate science projects, these enigmatic beings and their animal calls can be explained, and they can be saved from the worse fates!

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