Rogelio Diaz-Fernandez, Ph.D.
Location: Coastal regions of Cuba
Research: Assessing Causes of Manatee Mortality in Cuba and Developing Conservation Actions
|There is virtually no information on the status, distribution and threats to manatees in Cuba. Preliminary surveys through interviews with fishermen and visits to coastal sites suggest that manatees are distributed around the coast and their numbers are low but not rare. A number of threats, primarily anthropogenic, were identified particularly related to incidental catches and direct hunting. Pollution was another reported threat to the Cuban manatee population. This initiative will provide technical training in manatee and marine mammal field necropsy techniques. Biologists and staff from five marine biological stations situated around the Cuban coast and scientists and veterinarians from the University of Havana will participate. Two scientists from the Florida Marine Mammal Pathobiology Laboratory will conduct the training augmented by two manatee biologists and field veterinarian from Wildlife Trust. Necropsy field kits will be provided to each biological station. The outcome will be a network of stations and personnel who can respond quickly to reports of manatee or marine mammal strandings. The data obtained by necropsies of the freshest remains will allow information to be collected on causes of mortality. Additional information will become available on marine species distribution, mortality levels and areas of high deaths and genetics. These data will allow authorities to implement corrective or appropriate conservation actions.
Project Update: October 2005
The workshop was held in January 2005 after some administrative problems arose with the US government that postponed the workshop originally scheduled for October 2004. The high level of participation, cooperation and enthusiasm of participants was exciting. The workshop was a positive step toward a better understanding of factors affecting manatee morality, which will aid in the development of appropriate conservation actions.
The manatee and marine mammal necropsy training workshop was conducted in Cuba. There were 12 Cuban participants who traveled from eight biological stations around the county, along with students and faculty from the University of Havana, and staff from the National Aquarium. Necropsy practicals were held at the national forensic laboratory where the autopsy theater was made available. A newborn manatee carcass and dolphin carcass were donated by FWC for the training workshop. The frozen carcasses were carried as airline checked baggage from Miami to Cuba.
The workshop went exceptionally well with two days of formal presentations, followed by an afternoon dedicated to the necropsy of the manatee. The second afternoon, the dolphin necropsy was performed. In addition, a disarticulated manatee skeleton was used as a teaching tool. The skeleton provided an opportunity to discuss different forensic techniques. Participants were able to learn in a group setting, the different bone types and articulation. After the workshop, the skeletons were donated to the University of Havana.
The last two days of the workshop were spent discussing and developing a manatee and marine mammal stranding network. The university and government agencies have a number of facilities along the coast that could be used to extend the network around the country. Framework for communication and logistical details were discussed.
Since the workshop, a manatee, an Orca and two dolphins have been recovered. It is expected that the number of reports of manatee carcasses will continue to increase. Each recovered carcass will be assessed for cause of death. Baseline samples will be taken and genetic sampling will occur. The information acquired will be used to support conservation actions and have a beneficial effect on the local communities, increasing awareness and fostering attitudinal shifts as the public sees scientists.