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Manatees as a "Cultural Sentinel Species" at El Manati, Veracruz, Mexico

Grant Winners

  • Edward O. Keith, Ph.D.
  • Eileen M. Smith-Cavros, Ph.D.


  • Richard Dodge, Ph.D.
  • Don Rosenblum, Ph.D.


Award Winners

The Antillean manatee (Trichechus manatus manatus) is an important component of ecosystems bordering the Gulf of Mexico. Many communities in this region have a long history of hunting manatees for subsistence, and in some cases the manatee is an integral part of the culture and tradition of these groups. We propose to examine, from anthropological and environmental science perspectives, the cultural and historical knowledge of manatees possessed by people living in the region of the El ManatÌ archaeological site in southern Veracruz State, Mexico. It is our intention to document this knowledge and the extent of the manateeís cultural significance before it is lost due to the death of those who remember this information. It has recently been suggested that manatees can serve as "ecosystem sentinels", or as an index that an ecosystem is in danger. We hypothesize that the local extirpation of manatees from El ManatÌ may threaten the existence of the culture in the area and therefore generalize that certain species can act as "cultural sentinel species" indicating disruptive changes to culture that may change and even threaten the livelihood, behavior, and structure of certain cultural groups. If this is true, then it re-affirms at the larger theoretical level that the biological issue of species extinction has social and cultural ramifications for semi-traditional contemporary cultures. Working in collaboration with anthropologists from the National Institute of History and Archaeology in Veracruz, Mexico, we will attempt to integrate our findings into the historical and cultural context of this region of southern Veracruz State and then to a broader cultural and theoretical construct.

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