Officials have confirmed sighting of a rare marine mammal off the coast of St. Pete/Clearwater last week, a combination dolphin/manatee---known as a "manaphin"---that scientists had thought to be long-extinct.
The sighting of the odd-looking marine mammal, which bears resemblance to both the bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) and the West Indian manatee (Trichechus manatus), has scientists rethinking extinction claims---and locals and visitors clamoring for photos of the elusive herbivore.
Kayaker Doug Kramer was about 20 yards from shore last Friday afternoon when the creature's distinctive head broke the surface of the water. "I've seen both manatees and dolphins many times," said the 34-year old Chicagoan. "But this was different---the thing moved like a dolphin but had the head of a manatee. It was pretty cool."
Although not widely known in North America, the manaphin (sometimes spelled "manafin") has a long history in Central and South America, where it is known as delfin de la suerte. References to its existence can be found in centuries-old ships logs and in folklore passed down from coastal villages in Colombia, where a glimpse of the once-mythical mammal was considered to bring good luck.
Perhaps most famously, renowned English naturalist Charles Darwin encountered the playful mammal on his tour of the Galapagos, meticulously rendering the creature in an 1835 notebook and citing it as an example of one of nature's "endless forms most beautiful and wonderful." (Sketches and other info can be found on manaphin.com .)
In the two centuries since Darwin's encounter, sightings of the creatures have been "extremely rare," according to Clearwater Marine Aquarium researchers, "but not entirely unheard of."
"To have a sighting of one of these hybrid mammals anywhere is an extraordinary thing," said Clearwater Marine Aquarium Marine Mammal Trainer John Widick. "But to have sighting of one this far up in the Gulf of Mexico is truly remarkable and speaks to the cleanliness of the waters in the Gulf of Mexico---and the fact that Mother Nature has the final say in whether something is extinct."
According to Widick, the appearance of the manaphin is in keeping with a string of sightings of other "extinct" marine mammals in the past year---including BBC's footage of the alligator-like Brazilian river dolphin and the storied "white dolphin," which Yahoo News reported as being spotted in Japan by the Sea Shepherd conservation group earlier this year.