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National Aquarium Searches for Florida Manatee


The National Aquarium continues to monitor Baltimore area waterways for a wayward manatee after receiving another report late last week of a manatee sighting in the upper Patapsco River area. The report is one of several that were made to the National Aquarium in the month of October.

With cold weather rapidly approaching, several concerns are being raised about the health of the manatee. The National Aquarium’s Animal Rescue program worries that the water temperature of the Upper Patapsco is quickly becoming too cold for the mammal and its natural food source, submerged grass.

“We have received several reports of manatee sightings over the past three weeks but they are scattered, and no photographic evidence exists,” commented Jennifer Dittmar, stranding coordinator of the National Aquarium’s Marine Rescue Program. “We are working very closely with the US Fish and Wildlife Service out of Florida to monitor the animal, but without photos and consistent sightings we are having trouble tracking its movements and assessing its health.”

While there have been several sightings, Aquarium officials have been unable to locate the manatee due to scattered reports. Officials believe that the animal is traveling in and out of the Middle Branch area to search for food, making it hard to track. Additionally, manatees don’t have dorsal fins, as seen on dolphins, making it harder to spot. The National Aquarium has been monitoring and searching the Baltimore area waterways with hopes that it may spot the animal or figure out its traveling patterns.

The Mid-Atlantic coast is becoming a popular destination for manatees during the summer season, however, they should instinctively head back south with the start of fall. Maryland’s water temperatures in the summer months are warm enough for the manatees, and the Chesapeake Bay has an abundance of submerged sea grasses for them to eat along the way.

The National Aquarium is encouraging people around the area to be alert to the possible presence of this manatee, and to request help in documenting manatee sightings. Reports of sightings can be made to the stranding hotline at 410-373-0083. Please include details about the location of the sighting.

Manatees are large warm-water mammals that feed on sea grasses. They are normally 9-10 ft. long and can weigh over 1000 lbs. Observers should look for nostrils or the smooth back of the animal, or the tell-tale smooth ‘footprint’ created on the surface of the water as they move.

The National Aquarium also reminds local boaters to be aware that the animal is in the vicinity, and to use common sense practices to keep themselves and the manatee safe:

  • Boaters in these areas should slow down when traveling by boat in inlets and around shallows to avoid striking the manatee, and observe no wake signs.
  • No one should approach the manatee. It is a violation of Federal law to touch, disturb or interact with marine mammals. This includes feeding them – no feeding!
  • Keep at least a 50 foot distance. This is for human safety as well – manatees are not aggressive but they are wild animals, not tamed or conditioned to human interaction.