A newborn manatee is charming visitors at the Beauval Zoo in Saint-Aignan-sur-Cher, France. Baby Kali’na was born late October, coming in at around 33 pounds, and has since been under the meticulous care of her first-time-mother, Lolita. The six-year-old mom gave birth to twins—a rare occurrence among manatees—but Kali’na’s underweight sister was weak and drowned.
Manatees have long pregnancies, typically around 12 months. The mother gives birth in the water and guides her baby to the surface for its first breath. But the calf usually begins to swim on its own within an hour.
These chubby mammals can be found in warm waters along the eastern and southern U.S. coasts, in the Amazon River basin and in Africa’s western coastal areas and rivers. Thought to descend from the same ancestor as elephants—and possibly to be the inspiration behind mermaid myths—these marine characters have always fascinated scientists. And humans sometimes fascinate manatees, too—curious individuals are known to swim up to boats or scuba divers. Manatees in many areas are threatened by humans; they are frequently hit by boats and get caught in fishing nets. West Indian Manatees like Lolita, however, have been increasing in number for the past 25 years, prompting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service earlier this year to reclassify their status from “endangered” to the less severe “threatened” designation—a move that triggered a backlash from some conservationists who worry this may again raise risks for the animals.
Manatees do not give birth as often as many other mammals; they reproduce once every two to five years, so being able to observe the process up close excites zoologists and zoo-goers alike. Beauval hosts six other manatees including four males, and one of them (no one knows for sure which) is the calf’s father. Kali’na already weighs over 50 pounds—perhaps this little sea calf has already begun to nibble on her veggies.