Info: EXP--Roving Manatee (fwd)

Michael Williamson (
Mon, 18 Mar 1996 10:59:37

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Subject: Info: EXP--Roving Manatee (fwd)
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Date: Tue, 12 Mar 96 12:39:00 UTC 0000
Subject: EXP--Roving Manatee
EXP--Roving Manatee
 Associated Press Writer
   NEW YORK (AP) -- It's like one of those old vaudeville jokes.
Where does a 1,200-pound mammal go?
   Answer: Anywhere it wants.
   And when the animal is a baby-faced manatee who is sighted more
often than Elvis, the trip attracts an extraordinary amount of
   Meet Chessie, who for the past two summers has made his way
north up the Atlantic Coast from Florida, becoming the first
documented manatee to reach New England.
   Like all free spirits, Chessie isn't to be taken for granted.
He's made it a habit to ditch the satellite transmitter researchers
used to track him.
   Scientists, and the rest of us, wonder whether he'll do it again
this summer.
   Chessie gained his first round of fans -- and his name -- in 1994
when he made his way up to Maryland's Chesapeake Bay. Since
manatees cannot survive in waters colder than 65 degrees, concerned
scientists trapped and airlifted him back to Florida in October
   Before releasing the 10-foot-long Chessie, a floating radio
beacon was tethered to a collar around his tail to transmit data
that allowed researchers to pinpoint his location to within about
500 feet.
   Two weeks later, the transmitter, designed to release if it
became entangled, broke off. It was January 1995 before he was
tagged again.
   As the summer of '95 moved in, Chessie moved on. Beginning in
mid-June, Chessie headed up the coast, often traveling 20 to 30
miles per day. The 2,000-mile tour of 11 coastal states set records
for the longest documented seasonal migration for a manatee and
also the most northern location.
   His trip to Point Judith, R.I., "was probably a combination of
the fact that he was curious about exploring the coast and also
that the waters were quite warm," said Jim Reid, a biologist with
the National Biological Service's Sirenia Project in Gainsville,
Fla. Water temperatures along Chessie's route averaged about 8
degrees above normal.
   After reaching Point Judith in August, Chessie turned around and
again headed south, breaking free of the transmitter off the coast
of Connecticut.
   After that, his progress was tracked through sightings reported
by the public. By late September he had reached Virginia. By
Thanksgiving, he was spotted off the Florida coast.
   "Chessie never spent more than three days in any one place
during his trip," Reid said.
   Because individual manatees often repeat their migratory routes,
Reid said it is likely that Chessie will head north again this
summer. Although more than 150 manatees have been monitored in the
United States over the past 10 years without any having taken a
similar summer vacation, Reid believes Chessie's trip may not be
completely out of the ordinary.
   "People have tried to make him into a bizarre case -- like
Chessie is a crazy manatee -- but in fact he's an adult, experienced
with migrating along the coast. Chessie is showing us fully the
capabilities of the species," Reid said.
  Although most manatees summer in Florida or southern Georgia,
"There is no reason to think that this manatee or others either
have not done this in the past or will not do it in the future,"
Reid said.
   Manatees are herbivores with no natural predators, and have a
natural life expectancy of 50 or 60 years. However, since they
surface to breathe and often feed in shallow water, they are
susceptible to boat collisions.
   In fact, of the 2,000 manatee deaths recorded in Florida from
1976 to June 1993, 527 of those were attributed to collisions with
boats. An additional 150 died as the result of other human
activities. Even Chessie bears marks that lead scientists to
believe he has already been hit at least once by a boat.
   "He stands out because he's only got one gray scar," said Kit
Curtin, a researcher who tracks the mammals for the Save the
Manatee Club. "About 90 percent of the animals we see have many
scars from boat propellers."
   With about 2,600 manatees surviving in the UnitedStates, they
are today listed as an endangered species. Manatees are hunted in
other countries, so biologists have no idea how many survive
   In the United States, a person who injures or harasses a manatee
could be fined up to $100,000 and sent to prison for a year under
the Endangered Species Act.
   As for Chessie, he's been wintering in Florida, and was spotted
in Port Everglades last month, where he was fitted with a new
transmitter. As summer, and Chessie's travel season, approach,
researchers can only hope he won't leave home without it.