Video screenshot/ Karl Nelson
A manatee in southwest Florida waters gave birth to a rare set of twins in mid April. The mother’s identity was confirmed by Mote Marine Laboratory scientists, who know her history from 23 years of observations.
The female manatee known as “Tomo-Bella” was observed with her newborn twins on April 15. The three were observed by the public in Grand Canal along Siesta Key. Onlooker Karl Nelson took a video of the sight and sent it to Mote, where scientists then identified the mother.
Tomo-Bella was first observed in 1993 in Pansy Bayou near Lido Key. Since then, Mote has recorded 230 observations in various parts of Sarasota Bay, along with Fort Myers during winter. Mote first documented Tomo-Bella with a calf in 1995, which was the first of eight recorded. The 2016 calves are her first twins.
“We’re excited to see that Tomo-Bella is contributing to the manatee population, and it’s interesting to see twins from a female whose history we know so well,” said Jennifer Johnson, staff biologist with Mote’s Manatee Research Program.
Manatee twins are a rare occurance, born only 1.4 to 4 percent of the time in the Florida manatee population. A healthy mother is capable of supporting twins, but there is little data on how twin calves fare in the wild. This is a unique and interesting research opportunity for scientists to continue observing this family to gather new information about this anomaly.
If you happen to see a manatee with twin calves in Sarasota Bay or surrounding waters, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with “manatee twins” in the subject line. Please include a photo or video, the date and time of your sighting, and an address (and GPS coordinates if available) where you saw the animals. This information helps scientists at the lab build an even stronger observation timeline as the calves grow.
Southwest Florida offers a temperate habitat necessary for manatees to thrive, including seagrasses and other vegetation that manatees eat, warm-water refuges they use during winter, and suitable habitats for breeding and giving birth. Mote last documented Tomo-Bella on Jan. 25, 2016, in the Orange River in Fort Myers.