Manatee MissionBy Ariel Savitz"There are few uglier traits of human nature than this tendency ... to grow cruel, merely because they possessed the power of inflicting harm." - The Scarlet Letter"Length: 39 inches; weight: 80 pounds; three half-inch lacerations on the right side of the skull resulting in a massive head injury," Dr. Well said. "Hand me a scalpel, please."Cringing before the gruesome sight, I try not to close my eyes and I wonder how anyone can harm such a benevolent behemoth - a manatee. Yet, here I stand, a witness. Drab concrete walls slowly close in on me. The dank environment of the forensic laboratory contrasts with the brilliant Sarasota sun outside. The odor of formaldehyde is stifling. A putrid stench rises from the weeks-old, decaying carcass atop a steel gurney. The combination of unbearable heat and humidity causes beads of sweat to trickle down my face. Sickened, I force my attention back to Dr. Wells: "The cause of this four-month-old calf's death appears to be a head-on collision with a speeding motorboat," he concludes. "In addition, there is indication of skin infection. Samples will be sent to the lab for analysis. This skin abnormality is not uncommon and thought to be caused by pollution or bacteria in the water. The heart, liver, spleen and brain, as well as all other vital internal organs, appear healthy and normal, but biopsies will still be performed in our laboratory. Thank you all for attending another most enjoyable necropsy! Have a nice day," he grimaces.As I exit the dark concrete dungeon into bright sunlight, it is clear that the four other Earthwatch volunteers are of the same mind. How can people be so cruel, murdering a harmless creature? We hop on our dilapidated instruments of torture, (known to some as bicycles) and leave Mote Marine Lab, pedaling furiously. For three miles, we move through a wall of intense Florida heat. The palm trees provide little relief. We all feel the unspoken need to go to Ernest's dock overlooking the Pansy Bayou, a manatee sanctuary. Our friend, Ernest, is an environmental activist, focused on the preservation of manatees. He's 90 and his frail, hunched and gnarled hands belie the strength of character within. Tirelessly, he promotes the manatee mission.Gorgeous homes with their fine, quartz rocks, instead of lawns, denote Ernest's wealthy neighborhood. With an orange wooden gazebo in his backyard, Ernest's large house is distinctive. Classical music floating through open windows indicates that he's home. In this extravagant atmosphere, we crouch down on his sea wall. Silently, we observe the most amazing and gentle creatures on earth - the manatees! Ernest leaves the house and joins us. Manatees are drawn to his dock by its pipe. His air conditioner drips fresh water from the pipe which attractes the manatees. Our tension from the necropsy is relieved by seeing manatees alive in their natural environment. Their playful behavior and slow chewing on sea grass create an even more innocent image in our minds. We take pictures and identify them by the huge gashes on their backs, caused by careless boaters. I point to a manatee swimming toward us with huge, fresh wounds on her back. "It's Victoria!" I shout with delight. "She's still alive! Only her calf was killed!""So it is," answers Ernest.The other Earthwatch volunteers clamor to see and are just as thrilled as I am. A motorboat whizzes by. We glance at one another simultaneously. After a few moments of silence and sadness, we realize that Victoria's survival is only a small victory.Although Victoria is alive, other manatees are not. The Earth is one large biosphere. All plants and animals depend upon each other for existence. If any species becomes extinct, it offsets the balance of nature. Until everyone realizes the consequences of actions, the cruelty and ignorance will continue. These and other harmless creatures face extinction. ^
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.