Manatees Aren’t Dumb

They just act stoned.

As Dean Wormer would tell you, “Fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life.” We can rule out that manatees are drunk — although alcohol run off from Panama City Beach may bump the Gulf of Mexico up to 10 proof, that’s hardly enough liquor to get a half ton beast hammered. But they’re definitely fat and appear quite stupid.

Research out of the Mote Marine Lab indicates that we shouldn’t mistake the manatees’ half-baked attitude for stupidity. These marine mammals aren’t stupid; they’re just happy. And lazy. And fat. But they ain’t dumb:

Hugh, a manatee in a tank at a Florida marine laboratory, doesn’t seem like a dimwit. When a buzzer sounds, the speed bump-shaped mammal slowly flips his 1,300 pounds and aims a whiskered snout toward one of eight loudspeakers lowered into the water. Nosing the correct speaker earns him treats.

These behemoths only seem dumb because they have no natural predators (aside from a 50 horse power Yamaha). Without predators, there’s been no selection pressure for quickness and agility. That’s allowed them to evolve into fat-asses that appear to be dumb as bricks.

This also means that my warnings about the impending manatee invasion are warranted. Beware everyone. They’re coming. And they’re not as stupid as we thought they were.


  1. #1 John McKay
    November 13, 2006

    I don’t have to worry until they start scouting out the West Coast.

  2. #2 Baratos
    November 13, 2006

    I for one welcome our fat, lazy over– wait, are we talking about Americans or manatees?

  3. #3 Shelley Batts
    November 14, 2006

    I used to work at Mote, with these two very manatees Hugh and Buffett (which were gay by the way). I conducted tests with them to measure their visual acuity and to submit to husbandry upkeep (draw blood, get weighed, etc). And I can certainly attest that they are dumb. However, they can be classically conditioned to swim to a target or noise, just like a honeybee can. They REALLY love sugary monkey biscuits, which is the reward we give them, too. But even with this reward, we could ony hold their attention for about 20 minutes before we had to stop the trial. Or else they’d just go swim off into the deep end and fall asleep. 🙂

  4. #4 RPM
    November 14, 2006

    So, Shelley, my fears are unwarranted? Hmm, I wonder if they’re not just playing dumb. What if they’re just lulling us into a false sense of security before they invade our waterways and begin their attack?

  5. #5 Ed Yong
    December 15, 2008

    Right this minute, a manatee is reading a blog post entitled “Humans starting to see through “dumb” act – rudimentary intelligence displayed”.

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