Manatee in bay waters eludes rescuers

September 25, 1994|By David Folkenflik and Donna Boller | David Folkenflik and Donna Boller,Sun Staff Writers

Rescue workers will try again today after failing yesterday to save a rare manatee that has been meandering through Chesapeake Bay-area waters for about two months.

After being unsure where it was for a few days, wildlife specialists in boats and helicopters spotted the slow-swimming, pound mammal yesterday in shallow waters of the lower Chester River, north of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.

State and federal wildlife officials halted a nearly day-long rescue effort after a Florida expert determined that the normally docile animal was becoming stressed, said Frances Creswell, marine mammal stranding coordinator for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

"All we can say is that it [the rescue attempt] was unsuccessful today, and we're going to try again tomorrow," Ms. Creswell said.

Because of the threat humans pose to the manatee, state officials have declined to specify where it has been spotted. They fear that sightseers, including boaters whose propeller blades threaten the animal, would crowd into areas where the sea cow has been seen.

Ms. Creswell said that if the manatee can be captured, rescuers tentatively plan to transport it to the National Aquarium in Baltimore in the aquarium's marine ambulance. Experts there would check the animal's health and decide whether it is well enough for an airlift to Florida.

Wildlife specialists are worried that the manatee -- a member of an endangered species normally found in warm, southern waters -- will be in danger as the Chesapeake Bay becomes colder relatively quickly.

Colder waters make sea cows sluggish, and they neglect to eat, a serious matter for an animal that normally consumes 60 to 100 pounds of sea grass a day. Experts say manatees can die in waters below 65 degrees.

The bay's water temperature was 68 degrees yesterday -- at least a 4-degree drop from just a few days ago. Recent heavy rains have cooled the bay.

The manatee being tracked is believed to be the first of its species to swim north of the Potomac River. The creatures usually are found in warm shallow waters ranging from the

eastern coast of Texas to the southern shores of North Carolina, but are spotted sporadically off Virginia.

Maryland's manatee has been feeding on bay grasses along various Eastern Shore rivers.

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