Havre De Grace Visited By Young Manatee

July 21, 2009|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,tim.wheeler@baltsun.com

One of Florida's endangered manatees paid a social call on Havre de Grace over the weekend, swimming close enough to the dock to be filmed and even touched, officials at the National Aquarium said yesterday.

Video shot by a town police officer of the visitor was clear enough to allow federal biologists in Florida to identify the manatee as a teenager named Ilya, last sighted near Miami three years ago, said Jennifer Dittmar, coordinator of the Baltimore aquarium's marine animal rescue program.

"It appears he has been traveling," she said.

Sightings of the large, gentle, slow-moving mammals are reported every summer in the Chesapeake Bay, Dittmar said, but it's rare to get photographs or video to confirm them.

In this case, Havre de Grace police were called Saturday afternoon to a marina in the 600 block of Concord St. to investigate a report of an "unknown sea mammal" swimming in the vicinity.

"It had come into where the boat slips were and was just cruising around where the boats were, munching on some sea grasses," Dittmar said. The manatee swam close enough to the dock for bystanders to photograph it, and for Officer Marcus Rodriguez to capture its movements with a videocamera. At least one person reached down and touched the animal in the water, Dittmar said, though that's both illegal and a potential risk for the manatee.

The film was clear enough to see markings on the animal's tail, Dittmar said, so the footage was forwarded to biologists at the U.S. Geological Survey's manatee research team in Gainesville, Fla.

The scientists identified the visitor as a male manatee first photographed in 1994 as a calf. Named Ilya, the manatee hadn't been spotted since 2006, Dittmar said.

Boaters are advised to slow down when cruising in inlets and shallow water and to stay clear if they do see what they think is a manatee. It's against the law to disturb them, and familiarizing them with people may make them less wary of boats.

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