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Once and for all, where is the manatee emoji?
A moose and a goose will become new emoji, but Florida’s friends have been overlooked too long.
A West Indian manatee coming to the surface and looking for her emoji.
A West Indian manatee coming to the surface and looking for her emoji. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Aug. 19|Updated Aug. 19

New emoji are on the way. I know, you’re relieved. You’ve been bathing in an acid rain of primary ads in which all candidates continue to focus on a former silk tie manufacturer whose home has been raided by the FBI. Perhaps you’ve been screaming, “A PLAGUE ON BOTH YOUR HOUSES” like an irritated, dying Mercutio. You thought, “You know what I could use to cleanse my palate? A maracas emoji.”

Well, celebrate we will. The new slate of designs includes a moose and a goose, a jellyfish, a flute, a hair pick and a face experiencing whiplash (See also: Mercutio at the primary). These drafts are awaiting approval from the Unicode Consortium, my next team name at trivia.

News website Grid spoke with Emojipedia editor and chief Keith Broni about the deeper meaning behind emoji. The interview contains reflections that should keep us all awake wondering if a moose, literal or proverbial, is peering through the curtain cracks.

“You might think, ‘Why do I need a moose emoji?’” said Broni. “Well, actually, a lot of people across the world deal with moose on a frequent basis, and they’re pretty significant creatures. If you encounter one, you’re going to remember.”

Fine. But this update is missing something, a specimen absent from the lineup for too long.

The treasured manatee.

The significant manatee.

Please explain how there is no manatee emoji. I’m all ears. Wait, do manatees have ears? They don’t have necks, but… Hold on, I’ll check. “They don’t have external earlobes, but anatomically, manatees appear to have good hearing,” according to the National Ocean Service. “They have very large ear bones. You can tell how old a manatee is by counting the annual growth rings in the ear bone.”

Growth rings! Manatees are rad. Now search your phone. Start with “man” and brace for a cartoon flood of male proportions: a chesty genie, a British palace guard, Legolas from “Lord of the Rings,” mangoes and manholes. Emojipedia advised “a less specific search phrase.” I tried “sea cow,” same answer. Then I tried “Roly-Poly Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea” and the ground trembled beneath a corpulent tail slap.

Reader John Bisney wrote this spring asking me to gin up a letter campaign around the manamoji, because we focus on the big issues here. “This, of course, is just shocking,” he said of the dearth of petite digital manatees.

Yes, John, it is. Others have noticed. In 2016, which was 342 years ago, the former Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa circulated a change.org petition asking the Unicode Consortium for a manatee emoji. The zoo wanted to raise awareness for the species, an even greater idea now. Florida’s manatees experienced record-setting death in 2021 and are still at risk for starvation. The petition closed with more than 26,000 supporters, and yet we are stuck with seals and confused fish.

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Manatees remain iconic to Florida, the Caribbean, the Amazon Basin and West Africa, a magical mystery mammal to those sadly without. Early seamen mistook manatees for mermaids, and those mythical babes are well-represented on the emoji keyboard. A little too well, cue eyebrow.

Think of the communication value! Manatees are a luxuriously slow creature. With one click, they say: I’m running late for the marketing meeting and also don’t care... My mile is clocking in at 24 minutes and I’m going to reject jogging for the couch... Let’s skip class and laugh over salads at the pool... My head will be under blankets for 20-minute increments...

How do we make this happen? We rise up as one! We band together! We... oh. Fill out a form during the application period from April to July. Or we can make this gentle plea go viral and pressure Unicode to wedge in a manatee before the committee approves moose and friends in September. That’s the gray way, the lazy way, the roundabout (ba-dum-cha) way. The manatee way.

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