Looking for Manatees!
Location: Rio Dulce River - Guatemala
by Wayne & Karen Brown
Nantucket Clipper is now anchored off the coast of Guatemala in the Bahia de Amatique, near the village of Livingston. Livingston is at the mouth of the jungle river we will be exploring today, Rio Dulce ("Sweet River"). The Spaniards named this "Sweet River" because it is fresh ("sweet") water, not salty.
In the 17th century Spanish galleons sailed by here loaded with gold they had stolen from the Incas in Peru. The Spanish used this river as a place to hide from the pirates that roamed the Caribbean Sea. A Spanish galleon loaded with treasure was supposed to have been sunk in this river.
The treasure we will be looking for today is not gold and silver, but the natural treasures that may be found in this river and rainforest ecosystem. The government of Guatemala has made this area a reserve to protect the plants and animals that live here. This reserve was made especially to protect the manatees that live in this river. (To learn more about manatees, check out our Crystal River Florida Manatee Expedition.)
We will be looking for manatees today. Manatees are large (about 10 feet long), gentle, slow-moving marine mammals. Manatees are the only marine mammals that eat only plants. Manatees live in both fresh and salt water. Manatees are an animal link between the rainforests and coral reefs. Manatees feed up river along the river's edge of the rainforest. Manatees will also feed in the grass beds in the sea at the edge of the coral reefs. We may not see manatees today because they are scared of boats. Unlike the manatees we studied in Florida, the manatees here are scared of people, too.
A local boat picks us up from Nantucket Clipper. This boat is smaller and not as fast as the one we were on yesterday on the Sittee River. As we head up river we ask our local driver if he has ever seen any manatees. He said he saw one once -- about 10 years ago!
As we travel up the Rio Dulce we notice that the river is prettier than the Sittee River. The river is deeper and wider than the Sittee River. The Rio Dulce runs through a canyon that the river has cut through limestone. Towering over us at vertical cliffs over 400 feet high! The rainforest plants look like a green blanket covering the cliffs.
We see some animals that live along the river. In the trees close to the river some large (about 3 feet tall), white birds are watching us. As we get closer we can see that they are pelicans, egrets and herons.
Like all the iguanas we saw along the Sittee River yesterday, the further we travel up the river the more large white birds we see sitting in the trees. Our driver tells us that these birds eat fish, so that means there must be a lot of fish in this river.
Further up the river we see some large (about 2 feet tall), dark birds sitting in the trees. These birds are cormorants. Cormorants are fish-eating birds. They can swim really fast and dive down over 80 feet underwater to catch fish! It is nesting season now and we can see cormorants sitting near their nests in the trees. One cormorant spreads out its wings. It is doing that to dry out its wings. Cormorants' wings aren't waterproof as other water birds are. After going for a dive underwater a cormorant will get out of the water and spread out its wings so they can dry off.
We discover that more that just birds are here to catch the fish in the river. Just around the river bend we find a group of fishermen in their dugout canoes. There must be about 12 fishermen in this one spot. They are busy trying to catch fish. A few are using a fishing net. Others are using a fishing line. As we watch one fisherman pulls out a fish on his fishing line. One fisherman shows us a big bucket of fish he caught just today. There must be over 100 fish in the bucket! There seems to be plenty of fish for the fishermen and the birds to catch.
We have been traveling up the Rio Dulce for about one and a half hours. It is now time to go back to the ship. No one has seen any manatees. Our driver turns around and heads down river, back to our ship, Nantucket Clipper. Unfortunately we didn't see any manatees today, but we are glad that Guatemala has made a special reserve to help protect manatees.
Our driver brings us back to the ship. The crew pulls up the anchor and Captain Dan heads Nantucket Clipper further down the coast of Guatemala.
Come with us tomorrow as we fly from the coast of the Guatemala, deep into the rainforest, to explore the ancient and mysterious ruins of the Mayan city of Tikal!
Wayne & Karen
Position: 16º 20' N / 88º 59' W
Air Temp: 84ºF
Weather: light breeze, sunny with scattered clouds.
Our river boat is about 20 feet long and 6 feet wide. It has one outboard engine.
Our boat looks tiny next to the limestone cliffs that are over 400 feet high!
One cormorant is stretching out its wings to dry them in the sun. (Click on the photo and see how many cormorants you can count in this tree.)
All these fishermen are stopped here in their dugout canoes to catch fish.
This fisherman has caught a fish on his fishing line.