Reports of manatee sightings outside Florida, as far north as Massachusetts and as far west as Texas, are becoming more frequent.
There is serious concern for the manatees that may still be far from home as autumn is officially here and the waters are cooling. As a subtropical species, manatees cannot tolerate prolonged exposure to water temperatures below 68 degrees. Residents living along the Eastern Seaboard and Gulf of Mexico are reminded to watch for manatees and immediately report any sightings to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Jacksonville by calling (904) 731-3336.
"Manatees who have not returned to Florida waters by autumn are at risk from developing cold stress syndrome, which is a potentially fatal condition," said Dr. Katie Tripp, director of science and conservation for Save the Manatee Club.
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, 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 349 deaths through Sept. 11," she said. "Of these, 87 deaths have been from human-related causes including 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, said, "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 firstname.lastname@example.org. The club has been involved in funding manatee rescue and rehabilitation efforts over the years, including the rescue and transport of a manatee that was sighted in the Chesapeake Bay in 1994 and nicknamed "Chessie."