The XX Factor

Here’s a New Sex Thing to Try: A Manatee Mating Ball

Total freak.

Olympic swimmers may have cornered the market on hydrodynamic musculature and record-breaking speed in Rio, but Florida’s Tampa Bay offers the average viewer a far more attainable standard of underwater role model: the manatees of a manatee mating ball.

That’s right—a manatee mating ball. A ball of mating, populated by 100 percent manatees. Thought you’d never achieve a heroic water-based feat without the toned torso and Speedo-ready lower bits of an Olympian? Think again! The bloated, flailing, barnacle-encrusted stars of this live-action sex show are proof that any half-ton blob with a double chin and upper-lip stubble can complete a newsworthy stunt in the water.

Tampa’s ABC affiliate reported on a Tuesday traffic jam instigated by dozens of voyeurs who stopped their cars on a cross-bay causeway to leer into the water at a steamy manatee mating sesh in progress. According to WFTS, the sexual free-for-all only happens once every few years, making it a rare and beloved spectacle in the manatee-obsessed state of Florida.

Here’s how the bangathon goes down: Anywhere from seven to a couple of dozen male manatees hyperventilate with desire upon glimpsing (or maybe smelling, hearing, sonar-detecting—I don’t know, I’m no manatee perv) a sole female manatee in heat. The males fight like hell to be the chosen stud, using all their sensual energies and physical prowess to demonstrate their sexual competence. To the virginal eye, this looks something like a pile of elongated marshmallows with food poisoning trying to drown one another. Watch this SFW video from last year to see the action for yourself:

Sometimes, tensions get high enough that one manatee might ask another if he wants to “take this outside.” To a manatee, this means “up onto the beach,” where the males continue to roll about in a totally not gay way.

WFTS reports that the males in the mating ball (kind of a misnomer, since they’re not actually copulating in the ball) are trying to “push the female into shallow water in order to mate with her.” Like many accounts of animal mating habits, this practice sounds disturbingly coercive. I might be guilty of anthropomorphizing the sea cows here, but no more so than the Palm Beach Post, which identified the Tampa Bay mating ball as “manatee romance.” Guess the standards of fairytale meet-cutes are a bit lower when even the hottest romantic prospect looks like a giant gray pancreas.