Citizens Urged: Report Endangered Manatee Sightings to Ensure Timely Rescues

Chessie surfaces at the Great Bridge Locks in Virginia in August 2001. (Photo courtesy U.S. Geological Survey, Sirenia Project)

In recent years, endangered manatees have been sighted during summer and fall months in states along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, from Massachussetts to Texas. In October 2008, a manatee was rescued from Sesuit Harbor in Dennis, Massachusetts. Unfortunately, the manatee -- named Dennis after the town where he was rescued -- died en route to SeaWorld Orlando after suffering severe cold stress.

In the fall of 1994, a manatee named Chessie gained national attention after being sighted in the Chesapeake Bay. Save the Manatee Club helped fund Chessie’s rescue and transport back to Florida, and the Club has consistently been involved in manatee rescue and rehabilitation efforts over the years.

“It is crucial that citizens report manatee sightings outside Florida, particularly as the weather turns cooler, so that wildlife authorities can monitor these animals and intervene if necessary,” says Dr. Katie Tripp, Director of Science and Conservation for Save the Manatee Club.

While manatees can typically locate sufficiently warm water and abundant food supplies in northern waters during the summer, once waters begin to cool in the autumn, manatees must return south to Florida. As a subtropical species, manatees cannot tolerate prolonged exposure to water temperatures below 68 °F. Along the east coast of the United States, water temperatures will soon be dropping and approaching or surpassing this critical threshold.

"Generally speaking, manatees that have not returned to Florida waters by autumn are at risk from developing cold stress syndrome, which is a potentially fatal condition," says Tripp. Younger, juvenile manatees that wander north are particularly susceptible to these colder temperatures because of their smaller body size. Such manatees may also be naïve and less likely to successfully find their way back to Florida.

Non-Florida residents can report sightings to their local wildlife officials. Contact information is available at: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/health/networks.htm. Those local officials should then contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Jacksonville, Florida at 904-731-3336.

“Citizens should be prepared to report the number of manatees observed; the physical location of the manatees, with reference to any nearby landmarks; and a general description of the size and behavior of the manatee," says Tripp. "If possible, photos of the manatees, particularly clear photos of any scars or injuries, should be taken as these photos help biologists identify individual manatees.” Citizens can also contact Save the Manatee Club with questions about unusual sightings by calling 1-800-432-JOIN (5646) or e-mailing education@savethemanatee.org.

Manatees are protected under the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Please do not feed or touch manatees or give them water.


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