The Antillean manatee (Trichechus manatus manatus) in the southern Caribbean: A compilation and review of records for the Dutch Leeward islands and the central Venezuelan coast

The Antillean manatee (Trichechus manatus manatus) is a subspecies of the West Indian manatee and is found from Mexico and the Bahamas south to Brazil. It is listed as Endangered by the IUCN (Self-Sullivan & Mignucci-Giannoni, 2008). Population estimation is very difficult in this species but more recently Castelblanco-Martínez, Nourisson, Quintana-Rizzo, Padilla-Saldivar & Schmitter-Soto, 2012) compiled expert estimates to suggest a total metapopulation size of 6,700 animals. There is a Venezuelan regional population stretching from the Orinoco to the Guajira peninsula that was estimated to be about 400 animals (Castelblanco-Martínez et al., 2012). This population is precariously hanging on to existence along the northern Caribbean coast of South America and the species is listed as critically endangered according to the IUCN in Venezuela and locally endangered in Colombia (Boede et al., 2015; Caicedo-Herrera, Trujillo, Rodríguez & Rivera, 2004). In recent decades, very few sightings of manatees along the coast of Venezuela have been recorded.

The most recent population assessment (O'Shea, Correa-Viana, Ludlow & Robinson, 1988) and archaeological review (McKillop, 1985) of manatee occurrence along the central Venezuelan mainland coast are quite dated. Furthermore, neither produced any records for this area, suggesting that the central Caribbean coast of Venezuela (Paria Peninsula to Paraguaná Peninsula) and adjacent islands have long been practically devoid of manatees. However, since then, eight sightings and other records were compiled by Debrot, van Buurt, Caballero and Antczak (2006). Among these were three sightings of manatees reported for the island of Curaçao, dating from the late 1970s, 2001, and 2005 (Figure 1a and b) and a place name (not an actual sighting) “Manparía Kutu” from Bonaire suggesting the former occurrence of this species in Bonaire (Debrot et al., 2006). In this study our first purpose was to report the first-known manatee sighting record for Bonaire, which dates from July 2018 (Figure 1c), and an early colonial reference to this species for Curaçao. The second objective was to update manatee records for the adjacent central coast of Venezuela. For this, we conducted an Internet search of manatee mention in published and online sources for all cities and rivers of the central Venezuelan coast, in both Spanish and English. This literature search allowed us to add five previously unrecorded manatee records for the central coast of Venezuela. The third objective was to combine all manatee records for the areas considered (Table 1) and assess the Dutch Leeward records in the context of what is known about manatee occurrence along the central Venezuelan coast.

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