Otherwise known as the sea cow, the West Indian manatee (manatí or vaca marina in Spanish) is a huge, slow-moving, and gentle creature that resides in freshwater canals and lagoons near the ocean. The manatee, which can grow up to four meters long and weigh 700 kilograms, leads a lazy existence, resting for long periods with only its nose above water and nourishing itself with various aquatic plants. With their oversized lungs, manatees can stay under water for up to 15 or 20 minutes, propelling themselves with their single tail fluke and two slide flippers.
Once found all along the Caribbean coast of Central America, manatees are now in serious danger of extinction. The animal is hunted by both Miskito and Garífuna, who prize its meat (the Miskito claim it has seven distinct flavors in different parts of the body). Slow-moving as they are, manatees are also frequently hit by boats cruising around the coastal waterways, and they are often caught in fishing nets. As a result of these depredations, manatees are no longer common on the north coast, and their slow birth rate (one calf every three or four years) is not helping replenish the population. The waterways of Punta Sal, Punta Izopo, and Cuero y Salado are thought to harbor only a few dozen manatees, while more live in the remote lagoons of the Mosquitia.
In the waters around the Bay Islands, you might spy spinner and Atlantic bottle-nosed dolphins, which often cruise through the surrounding waters in their patrols around the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean. A dolphin program and research station at Anthony’s Key Resort on Roatán can offer visitors an opportunity to scuba dive or snorkel with specially trained bottle-nosed dolphins. Much more rarely seen, sticking to the deeper waters of the Cayman Trench north of the Bay Islands, are sperm, humpback, pilot, and killer whales. Columbus spotted tropical monk seals during his stop at Guanaja in 1502, but the last confirmed sighting of a monk seal was on the Serranillas Islands (which now belong to Colombia) in 1952—the seal is thought to be extinct.
The neotropical river otters, called nutria or perro de agua, were once common in the rivers and lakes of mainland Honduras but seem to be going the way of their seal cousins due to excessive hunting and pollution in rivers and lakes. These inoffensive creatures are extremely intelligent and even funny, prone to playing with one another. The otter can still be seen in the rivers of the Mosquitia and in a few protected areas on the north coast like Pico Bonito and Punta Sal.
© Chris Humphrey and Amy E. Robertson from Moon Honduras, 5th Edition