Then, last week, the large swimming animal was seen again, behind Harbor Hospital in the city. On Sunday, someone called in a report of a floating human body off Fort McHenry. But when the Baltimore Fire Department went out in a boat to investigate, “they soon realized it was not a body but a manatee,” said Jen Dittmar, marine animal stranding coordinator for the National Aquarium in Baltimore.
Manitees, which live in the warm waters of Florida and only rarely make their way up into the Chesapeake Bay, are an endangered species.They can grow up to 13 feet long and weigh 3,000 pounds. But their populations are dangerously low, because they feed on underwater grasses in shallow areas, making them vulnerable to being killed by boat propellers.
A team from the National Aquarium went up in a helicopter on Sunday to try to find and rescue the manatee, but after two hours of searching, could not find it, Dittmar said.
So now the National Aquarium is reaching out to local residents and waterfront businesses and asking them to be on the look for the manatee, take pictures of it and immediately report any sightings.
People who see the manatee can help the Aquarium by calling a stranding hotline at 410-373-0083.
The animal could be sick or stranded, and the weather will soon get too cold for the mammals up here in Maryland. At this point, identification of the animal as a manatee is only tentative, Dittmar added. Biologists would like to catch it, and check it out physically, and then (if appropriate) transport it back to Florida, where it belongs.
Although they are rare, every summer, the Aquarium receives a report or two of manatees in the Chesapeake Bay. Last year, a manatee, nickhamed Ilya, travelled up the East Coast from Florida as far north as New Jersey.
Ilya was photographed in the northern Chesapeake Bay, near the Susquehanna Flats, where he hung out for about two weeks. Then he continued up the coast to New Jersey, where officials captured him and flew him back down to Florida. There, the manatee underwent medical treatments for several weeks before being released back to the wild.
By Tom Pelton
Chesapeake Bay Foundation
(Top photo of manatee near Swann Park in Baltimore City taken by Ryan Neal. Second photo, of manitee in Florida, courtesy of iStockphoto.com)