Scientists present new common names for manatees

He sea ​​cow of Puerto Rico has received a name update. In a new study –led by scientists from the Caribbean Manatee Conservation Center–, a new terminology has been suggested for Antillean mammals, a change with which better communication and conservation efforts between countries in the region are expected.

The Puerto Rican manatee is a member of a species found from the southeast coast of USA to the northeast of Brazil. Over time, it has been referred to by various names, such as “West Indian manatee,” “West Indian manatee,” “American manatee,” and “Florida manatee.” but several of these are erroneous and reflect an inaccurate colonial view. “West Indian manatee,” for example, is a trace of the colonization of the Americas and, although erroneous, is still used. Likewise, “Antillean manatee” is a misnomer, since the species not only lives in the Antilles, but also in other areas of the CaribbeanCentral and South America.

Therefore, a uniform terminology is needed that adequately reflects the geographical and biological distribution of the species, explained the doctor. Antonio Mignuccidirector of the Caribbean Manatee Conservation Center, who led the study establishing new names for the region's manatees.

He study It began in October 2023 and was carried out with the help of 24 co-authors from various countries and the consultation of 40 Spanish-speaking biologists. This collaborative element, Mignucci explained, was integral. “From the beginning, it was a very collaborative effort. If we did not have all these colleagues, then the use of the name would lose validity.”said.

Now that the names are proposed, the responsibility for adopting them falls to scientists researching manatees. (Ramon “Tonito” Zayas)

Recently published in the magazine Caribbean Naturalist, the study proposes new names for manatees. The species that inhabits the waters from the southeastern United States to Brazil will be recognized as the “manatee of the Americas” (Trichechus manatus), to distinguish it from the Amazonian manatee and the African manatee. Within this species, two subspecies are recognized: the “Florida manatee” (Trichechus manatus latirostris), which is primarily found in the coastal waters of the southeastern United States; and the “Manatee of the Greater Caribbean” (Trichechus manatus manatus), which is located from the Yucatan Peninsula, in Mexicoand along the Caribbean coast of Central America and the north of South America.

This name change has important implications for scientific communication and the conservation of different manatee species. “As long as uniform terminology is used, communication is easier and, therefore, errors are avoided”highlighted Mignucci, who is an oceanographer and certified aquatic veterinary technician specialized in marine biology, health and conservation.

“You can rescue and save or study all the fish you want… but, If you don't educate about them, you are not going to be the element of conservation.”added about the importance of using accurate names.

The new names were proposed in English, Spanish, Portuguese, French and Dutch (Dutch), which are the languages ​​spoken in the region inhabited by the “manatee of the Americas.” This, according to Mignucci, will serve to unify scientists from different countries and regions who are studying them. He added that the name “Wider Caribbean manatee” serves to consolidate conservation efforts. “The idea is that it is unified and everyone is talking about the same thing”he stressed.

Antonio Mignucci, director of the Caribbean Manatee Conservation Center.
Antonio Mignucci, director of the Caribbean Manatee Conservation Center. (Ramon “Tonito” Zayas)

Now that the names are proposed, the responsibility for adopting them falls to scientists researching manatees. Implementing new names in research, publications and scientific presentations is important for them to be successful and accepted. Furthermore, international collaborations need to continue to ensure adaptation and consistent use of new terminology.

Mignucci stressed, finally, that the study accentuates the importance of collaboration and scientific communication. With the use of these new names, steps are being taken to correct misinformation and join efforts to maintain and study the Caribbean environment.

Study: What's in a Name? Standardization of Vernacular Names for Trichechus manatus