High-Pitched Boat Alarm Could Be Life-Saving for Endangered Manatees

manatee cow and calf photo

Migrated Image / Psyberartist / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

It's well known that boats are an affliction for manatees. Practically all of the endangered sea cows bear scars from boat propellers, which are notorious for being a number one killer of manatees. So why don't they get out of the way of the boats when they hear them coming? The simple answer is that they can't hear the low frequency sounds made by the boats. A few years ago, we reported that some researchers were working on discovering more about the hearing abilities of manatees. But someone else has already been on the case for some time. Years ago, when Dr. Edmund Gerstein tested out a higher frequency sound, he saw manatees react quickly. After 20 years of research, he and his wife Laura are now testing out a manatee alarm system that alerts the mammals when boats are coming toward them.

When a boat approaches, the buoy holding the alarm sounds, and manatees have a chance to react. There's a 100% success rate with the testing so far, showing that manatees clear out well before the boat gets to them thanks to the warning system.

Dr. Gerstein states, "In a sense if we were to put this device on the boat which would be very inexpensive, only about $125, it's a user based tax that the boaters would gladly pay if they could put this on their boat and maybe get to an area a little bit quicker. And more importantly protect the animal as they're going."

Sometimes all it takes to save an animals is pausing to ask exactly why the human-animal conflict occurs. In this case, it's just a matter of the right sound waves.