Meet a Manatee: Vector
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Save the Manatee Club
June 2014

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Vector is a male manatee who was first identified in January 21, 1983, when he was spotted by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) researchers in the Alafia River near Tampa, Florida. We know Vector is at least 28 years old, which would put him at manatee middle age, since biologists believe that manatees are capable of living more than 60 years.

Vector is easily recognizable because of the large, triangular-shaped white scar on his back. A vector triangle is a mathematical term, and that may have been how Vector got his name. Another distinctive feature is the right side of his tail, which looks like a series of four or five upside-down triangles. Vector also has several smaller scars in the mid-right and left posterior regions of his body and some other white scars on the left side of his tail.

Vector has been known to travel several hundred miles along Florida's west coast.
(Photo courtesy of FWC)

Vector’s movements are tracked through the Manatee Photo-Identification Program, which is a cooperative effort of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Sirenia Project, the FWC, and Mote Marine Laboratory. Most adult manatees inhabiting Florida waters are scarred from collisions from boats. Entanglement in fishing gear, cold stress lesions, and fungal infections can also cause scarring. Researchers use these scars to identify individual manatees. They photograph manatees and record observations when they are gathered at warm water refuges in the winter and at various areas they frequent in the summer. The information and photos are then entered into a computer database. By monitoring a individual manatee over the course of time, researchers can learn many things about migration, travel, important habitat and other behavioral factors, as well as determining life history aspects such as population trends.

Vector is easily recognizable because of the large, triangular-shaped white scar on his back.
(Photo courtesy of FWC)

Because of the Photo-Identification Program, we know that Vector likes to hang out in Tampa Bay during the winter. On cold days, he can frequently be found at the warm water discharge canal near Tampa Electric Company’s (TECO) Big Bend Power Plant in Apollo Beach, Florida. He has also been known to show up at Progress Energy’s Bartow Power Plant, located across the bay in Pinellas County, and at a canal on the east side of Old Tampa Bay. One year, he was observed at Riviera Bay, which is on the west side of Tampa Bay. The canal reaches far inland, and up to 12 manatees have been spotted there in the past, munching on shoreline vegetation.

FWC manatee researchers have given Vector the nickname “Mama’s Boy,” because he is known to arrive early each winter in November or December, before most of the adult manatees and around the same time that the mother and calf pairs show up. One year, he was even seen at a marina in St. Petersburg, Florida, near the end of October. Once winter officially arrives, Vector usually makes several visits to TECO during the months of January, February, and March. He was also sighted once in April near St. Petersburg.

Another distinctive feature that identifies Vector is his jagged tail.
(Photo courtesy of FWC)

But if you think that Vector is a wimp because he shows up early for the season, you might want to think again. In 1991, Vector was captured and “tagged” with a satellite tracking device, which is another way that researchers monitor manatees. The manatee wears a belt around their tail that is attached to a transmitter in a waterproof container. Because of the satellite tracking device, researchers were able to determine that Vector has traveled as far north as the Suwannee River near Cedar Key, Florida, and as far south as the Peace River near Punta Gorda, Florida. That’s a span of several hundred miles!

Last winter was a cold one for Florida’s endangered manatees, but you’ll be glad to know that Vector survived. He was spotted at TECO on nine days between January and March in 2010. And this year, as usual, Vector came in early for the season. He was observed at the Bartow Power Plant on November 11th and with fellow adoptee Flicker at TECO on December 8th. We are hoping for additional sightings of Vector at TECO this winter, to see if he continues to follow his usual travel pattern around Tampa Bay.

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