Manatee isn't even lured with trick

October 01, 1994|By Katherine Richards | Katherine Richards,Sun Staff Writer

The elusive manatee lived to swim another day in the Chesapeake Bay yesterday, as choppy and muddy waters marred visibility and thwarted searchers using recorded manatee sounds as a lure.

Wildlife experts thought the recorded sounds -- a series of dolphin-like squeaks -- might attract the mammal. But the manatee didn't bite and the search was called off about 4:30 p.m.

"Today's just not a good day at all," said James A. Valade, a wildlife biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who rode in a helicopter yesterday, scanning the shoreline near Queenstown. "The water's choppy and we can't see a thing."

The attempt to attract the animal with manatee sounds was a long shot, Mr. Valade admitted, and had not been tried before. But the hope was that since manatees often travel in groups of two or three, "You would think they would be interested in a little company," he said.

If the manatee does not make its way to warmer water soon, it could die. Manatees cannot live in water temperatures below 66 degrees for extended periods.

Yesterday, it was spotted in a harbor area where the water temperature was 72 degrees, officials said.

The manatee -- estimated to weigh about 1,500 pounds -- belongs to an endangered warm-water species found chiefly in Florida's coastal waterways. Boat propellers have taken a toll on the manatees, whose numbers have dwindled to 1,850.

The rescue attempt is being paid for by endangered species preservation funds and the Save the Manatee Club, which is paying for aerial surveillance, net rental and transportation costs, Mr. Valade said.

He said the search would resume today.

Participating in the search are experts from Sea World of Florida, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Marine Animal Rescue Program at the National Aquarium in Baltimore.

Searchers asked boaters to slow down if they see the manatee. They also asked people not to feed it, swim with it or chase it.

Anyone who spots the manatee is asked to call (800) 820-8994.

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