The Story of Divine
by Park Manager Sally Lieb
(Pictures courtesy of J.P. Leemans)
Divine the manatee, was first seen in the Silver River by manatee research scientist Monica Ross’s team on December 14, 2019. She was subadult in size, so was probably more than 3 years old at that time. During mid-summer of 2020, Ross was very excited to inform me, Park Manager Sally Lieb, that she was sure Divine was pregnant. By March of 2021, she was looking extremely large... even for a manatee. Manatees graze on the rich underwater vegetation in the Silver. The most commonly found is strap-leaf sagittaria, Sagittaria kurziana, eel-grass or tapegrass, Vallisnaria americana, and their favorite, less common food, coontail, Ceratophyllum demersum. Being vegetarians, manatees have a large complex stomach to digest plant materials, but Divine’s size was obviously more than the typical rotund form of the average sea cow. On April 4, 2021, we were all excited to see her with her first calf near the paddle launch. Unfortunately, the following morning the calf had died, but Divine was still staying with her. Even though it seems that a mother is doing everything correctly, sometimes the calf dies...and more often to first time mothers. Due to the size of Divine’s calf at that time, and behaviors previously observed, it was thought the birth had probably occurred on or around March 24.
Knowing that manatee pregnancy lasts 12 months, we tagged out calendars and hopefully watched for results in 2022. Divine continued to be a regular visitor in the Silver River. Manatees do not have a blubber layer like other marine mammals, so they are sensitive to cold temperatures. When the water temperature drops below 68 degrees Fahrenheit, they suffer from cold stress and can even die if subjected to lower temperatures for a sustained period of time. But, unlike other manatees who tend to travel out into the ocean for the summer and return to the springs when the ocean temperatures drop, Divine likes to hang out in the springs year round. She seems to be attracted to people and boats and sadly, this attraction has led her to have many, many scars from being hit by boats. On June 7, 2022, I was out on the river with the Aquatic Preserve staff, Jeff and Chevy, when we saw Divine at the mouth of the Ray Wayside Canal. She was just lounging around, getting in the way of boats in her usual way. On July 5, Aquatic Motor Patrol reported her hanging out in the boat barn and got some photos of her under the patrol boat. Everyone was interested and excited to see that she was looking very large and probably very pregnant again. On July 15, she spent most of the day sleeping right off the end of the Paddle Launch. Everyone thought, "any day now". But Divine was not there the next day, nor seen anywhere for several days. Then the wonderful day arrived. On the morning of July 23, 2022, Divine was in the cove by the Youth Camp launch with a brand new calf! The water was all clouded up there, indicating she had been doing a lot of moving around, probably in labor during the predawn hours. The calf was staying very close and using her mother’s body to come up for breaths, as newborn calves are prone to do. She also swam more with her flippers and less with her tail, as newborns also do. We watched her all day and saw her actively nursing from the mammary glands located just behind Divine’s flippers. Fortunately, this second birth story of is much happier so far for 3-month old little Gypsy, as she has continued to grow and stay close to her momma Divine. There is a whole flotilla of dedicated volunteers who always keep their eyes out for Divine and Gypsy, trying to protect them from too much love.
It’s important for people to realize that manatees do need their space. Never jump in the water with an approaching manatee. Swimming is not permitted in the Silver River anyway so please do not do it. There are many safety issues. With this no swimming rule, manatees like Divine and Gypsy are able to enjoy the river for themselves. Also, boaters should not surround them, try to touch them with their paddles or disturb them in any way. The best way to respect manatees is to stop when you see them and stay 2 kayak-lengths away from them. Now if you sit still and they come toward you, then you are a lucky person! Please help us and teach others about good manatee etiquette. Remember, you are visitors in their home, so be good guests and treat all the river residents, along with Divine and her daughter Gypsy, with respect, love and kindness.