Mote biologists put manatees on treadmills -- for science

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Exercise for manatees is at the center of new research at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota. Scientists have put their two resident manatees on a water treadmill, but it's not to make them lose weight. The research will hopefully help scientists take better care of manatees in captivity.

Manatees Hugh and Buffett are taking turns burning off a few calories, for the good of science, in their underwater swim machine.

"We simply ask Hugh and Buffett to station in front of the current and swim at specific speeds," said Mote senior aquarium biologist Kat Boerner. 

As they swim against the moving water, the dome above measures how much oxygen they're using, how much energy they're consuming, and the rate of their metabolism. 

"They're wearing an accelerometer on their tail with a belt and that's calculating their swim strokes or how many times they're kicking their tail up and down, which helps us verify their speed," she said. 

Researchers hope the data they collect will lead to better care for rescued manatees. 

"We can get a better idea of how much food we need to feed them because they're burning more calories, or we can get a better idea of how much time they need to regain their energy or strength before they are up for release," said Boerner. 

The wild manatee population continues to grow and Boerner hopes the study will help continue that trend. 

"The more information we can learn about them, the better we can take care of them," she added.