Part of a series based on Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity by Bruce Bagemihl. Manatee’s are large seal-like marine mammals, up to 2.5-4m (8-14 ft) long. This species lives in coastal areas and rivers of the southeastern United States, the Caribbean, and northeastern Brazil. Manatees are generally solitary and barely social at all. Occasionally they form small groups of two to six individuals; these groups may be mixed or consist entirely of younger males.
Having no society as such doesn’t stop male Manatees from cruising for other males. Most male Manatees are probably bisexual, since their homosexuality is usually either interspersed with heterosexual encounters, or it develops out of ménages à trois (or quatre, or more) involving a female and several males. In other words, male Manatees sometimes compete against each other for female attention but then go off with their male rival instead. A good twist there for soap opera script writers, although I daresay it’s been done already on some show or other.
West Indian Manatee (Trichelus manatus)
Homosexuality: Male Behaviours: Affectionate, Sexual Ranking: Primary Observed: Wild, Captivity
(See It’s Gay Animal Fortnight for an explanation of this box.)
Manatees take part in what are described as “intense homosexual activities”. This doesn’t mean buying ridiculous, gaudy, impractical underwear or seeing Mamma Mia! twelve times. It refers to homosexual mating in groups, with 69s, interlocking penises, mouthing, caressing and “kissing” each other’s bodies, nibbling or nuzzling the genital region, rubbing penises with flippers, and riding on top of each other. Groups of up to four animals take part in these orgies, with some individuals leaving and coming back later, or new Manatees joining the group.
Homosexual behaviour also plays a part in the Manatee activity that’s officially but cutely described as “cavorting”, in which the animals splash about, nuzzle, chase and roll around with each other. Cavorting groups may be mixed sex or all male.
Like Walruses, male Manatees are mostly quite unpleasant and abusive towards females. Heterosexual interactions may involve about twenty males relentlessly pursuing, harassing and coercing females regardless of whether they are in heat or sexually mature. These pursuits can last for weeks, or until one or more males are able to rape the females in question. Some females are driven to strand themselves ashore rather than submit. Calves whose mothers are pursued in this way are sometimes injured, killed or simply die from exhaustion and stress.
Next time on Gay Animal Fortnight… Erotic combat Elephants.
Original Manatee image from Wikipedia Commons. Yes, I know it’s a female Manatee.