If Manatees Can Hear Boats, Why Don't They Move When One's Coming?

Last week, Sea World took in an approximately 1,700-pound manatee that had been bashed up by a speeding boat. It's the seventh sea cow taken in by the facility this year alone, and regulations to stop boats from hitting the sweet morons have been debated, sort of.

A new study suggests, however, that manatees seem perfectly capable of hearing oncoming boats above background noise. So why don't they move when a boat is tearing through the water toward them? 

"Manatees might be less aware of these sounds when they are sleeping, eating, or performing other activities related to their daily life," study co-author Joe Gaspard of the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium said in a news release. Given their looks, it's safe to assume manatees are sleeping or eating 99 percent of the time. 

The study, published in The Journal of Experimental Biology, demonstrates just how freaking awesome these animals are. First off, the names of the two manatees used in the study were Buffett and Hugh; talk about a code-red cute alert. 

The two were trained to "touch a yellow response panel in exchange for a tasty fruit or vegetable snack when they heard a sound" emitted from a station about a meter under water. 

So what level of noise can they hear?

Once Hugh and Buffett had got the task in hand, the team tested their hearing by selecting a particular sound frequency (pitch) and gradually lowering the volume of the sound until the manatee could no longer hear it. Plotting these "hearing thresholds" on a graph, the team could see that the manatees had good hearing between 8 and 32kHz and could even hear sounds as low as 0.25kHz -- so long as they were quite loud. 

That's a lengthy way of saying these slow-moving fatsos should be able to hear boats coming -- so long as they're not distracted by being lazy (sleeping or eating). 

At one point in the study, Buffett proved capable of hearing "ultrasonic frequencies" but apparently became agitated by the sound and refused to show off this skill a second time. 

What a diva.

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