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In split decision, Mote Manatees pick Super Bowl winner

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For the past several years, two of the most famous manatees in the world have been doing their own form of Super Bowl prognostication, as they try and decide which team will go all the way and win the biggest game of the NFL football season. This year, however, the pundits, both human and non-human alike, are having a hard time deciding which of the two teams will triumph over the cold weather, and each other, to go on to ultimate victory.

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On Friday, Jan. 24, Buffett and Hugh, resident manatees in The Aquarium at Mote Marine Laboratory, disagreed when choosing between the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks to win Super Bowl XLVIII on Sunday, Feb. 2. Buffett chose the Broncos, while half brother Hugh chose the Seahawks.

“I’m going with Buffett this year,” said Manatee Research Supervisor Kat Nicolaisen, who sported a bright orange Broncos jersey.

She’s probably not the only one siding with Buffett, who has chosen the correct team for the past six years. Brother Hugh has chosen correctly four times out of six.

“It’s pretty incredible that Buffett is now six for six,” Nicolaisen said. “We don’t know how he does it. The choice is totally up to him.”

Only time will tell if Buffett’s winning streak will continue.

Aside from being sports fans, Hugh and Buffett are the world’s most extensively trained manatees. Training helps their veterinary care run more smoothly and allows the two manatees to participate in innovative research about their senses, such as hearing and touch, and about their physiology.

For more than 15 years, researchers at Mote have been studying how manatees perceive and navigate their underwater world, where boat strikes and other threats are common. Mote’s research is designed to help resource managers protect these endangered mammals.

So far, key findings show that manatees:

  • Have poor vision and probably cannot see fine details.
  • Have good hearing over a wide range of frequencies, including the ability to hear pitches produced by boat engines despite loud background noise, and have a strong ability to locate which direction sounds are coming from.
  • Are some of the most touch-sensitive animals on Earth thanks to their sensitive hairs called vibrissae. Their facial whiskers can sense tiny texture differences and their body hairs help the manatees feel water movements thousands of times smaller than the width of a human hair.

Moving forward, the researchers are studying manatee physiology — including their metabolism, nutrition, need for warm water and other traits of these unique aquatic plant-eaters — to better understand what environmental pressures manatees face and what conditions may help them survive and increase in number.

The two manatees are on exhibit daily in The Aquarium at Mote, which is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. 365 days per year at1600 Ken Thompson Parkway in Sarasota. Hugh and Buffett live in the Ann and Alfred Goldstein Marine Mammal Center at 1703 Ken Thompson Parkway, just down the street from the main Aquarium parking lot. For visitor information, go to www.mote.org, scroll over “Aquarium” and click “Visitor Information.” You can support the care of Hugh and Buffett by adopting a manatee.

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