As autumn is officially here and the waters are cooling, there is serious concern for manatees who may still be far from home. A subtropical species, manatees cannot tolerate prolonged exposure to water temperatures below 68 F. Residents living along the Eastern Seaboard and Gulf of Mexico are reminded to watch for manatees and immediately report any sightings to their local wildlife officials or marine law enforcement office. Contact information is available at: www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/health/networks.htm.
“Manatees who have not returned to Florida waters by autumn are at risk from developing cold stress syndrome, which is a potentially fatal condition,” explains Dr. Katie Tripp, Director of Science and Conservation for Save the Manatee Club.
In recent years, reports of manatee sightings outside Florida, as far north as Massachusetts and as far west of Texas, are becoming more frequent, and this year is no exception. In August and September, there were reported manatee sightings in New Jersey, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and, most recently, Connecticut. Researchers with the U.S. Geological Survey Sirenia Project, an agency that tracks manatees along the southeast coast of the United States, have identified one of the travelers as "Ilya," a manatee who had not been previously documented outside of Florida.
Dr. Tripp advises the public to 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. Also, photos of the manatees, particularly clear photos of any scars or injuries help biologists identify individual manatees. She also urges the public not to provide food or water to manatees, as this may encourage them to linger instead of swimming home to Florida.
“So far, 2009 has been a deadly year for manatees, with 351 deaths through September 18th,” added Dr. Tripp. “Of these, 88 deaths have been from human-related causes, including 77 confirmed deaths from watercraft strikes. In a year when we appear to be on pace to set a record for mortality, it is even more critical that we locate all manatees who may still be outside of Florida so that we can help ensure their safe passage home.”
Patrick Rose, Executive Director of Save the Manatee Club, says, “I am confident that with good coordination among the public, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and other partners, any wayward manatees needing rescue can be found and returned to Florida.”
The public can also contact Save the Manatee Club with questions about unusual sightings by calling 1-800-432-JOIN (5646) or e-mailing email@example.com. The Club has been involved in funding manatee rescue and rehabilitation efforts over the years, including the rescue and transport of a manatee who was sighted in the Chesapeake Bay in 1994 and nicknamed “Chessie.”