Several Manatees Swimming Toward Danger and the Oil Spill; Mobile May Release Dammed Waters

Biologists know that a handful of manatees are in the Gulf of Mexico and swimming westward–toward the massive Deepwater Horizon oil spill, but so far they have decided not to try to intervene. Mobile Bay officials may release dammed waters to push the oil away from the bay, a local scientist says.

A female manatee that spends the summer in Mobile Bay is now in Appalachicola Bay, FL, says Ruth H. Carmichael, senior marine scientist at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, which is bracing for the oil slick.  Appalachicola Bay is roughly 250 miles from Mobile–if you take the shore route. They can swim up to 45 miles a day, but 5-15 is more likely.

“I hope she finds a nice location to wait for a while,” Carmichael says. “The USGS also has a few tagged manatees they know are moving this way.  We are doing nothing to move or disturb the animals.  Right now the oil is offshore and the manatees are in shore.  We need to trust them to take care of themselves for now.”

Manatees spend the winter near hot springs or power plants in Florida, but as their population has recovered, they are swimming further in the summer. A few now regularly visit Alabama and every few years a young male makes it up to New England.  

“Mobile Bay is trying to arrange for discharge of dammed waters , if needed, to force water out of the Bay and keep it westward off shore,”

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Iguanas Dropping, Manatees Gathering, Pythons Surviving in Florida’s Cold

Florida’s harsh cold spell is a bonanza for animal watchers, if not for the Florida animals themselves. Manatees are gathering around power plants and hot springs. Iguanas are dropping from trees in a kind of cold coma. Cold-stunned turtles are warming up in hotel rooms. Pythons are sunning themselves. And waterfowl are migrating down from other states, says Gary Morse, a spokesman for Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Commission. Manatees: The manatees are the ones wildlife officials are worried about. They’re native, endangered and hate the cold. Sea cows need water at least 68 degrees to survive. Last year at least 56 died of cold stress, the FWC says. This year they’d like people to give them a break and back off for a bit. “They are stressed from the cold and from not eating. We advise people not to approach them in these times,” Morse says. “Our mere presence as human beings can cause them to flee the very thing they need.” The FWC already pulled two frigid manatees from cold water and sent to a zoo and an aquarium to warm up.

Sea Turtles: Sea Turtles often turn up at the same hot spots that draw manatees. But if they don’t they become sluggish and eventually get cold-stunned and beach themselves. Rescuers are swooping in and taking them to the The Turtle Hospital on the Keys and the Georgia Sea Turtle Center have resorted to putting them up in hotel rooms and kiddie pools, respectively.

View AnimalTourism.com

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429 Dead Manatees found Last Year out of Population of 4,000; Only 37 Called Natural Deaths

A record 429 manatees were found dead off Florida last year out of a delicate population of just about 4,000. Could it be good news, reflecting a growing population? After all the the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission counted a record 3,807 manatees in their aerial surveys last year.

Not so fast, says the FWC:  “The situation is not that simple. Both the carcass totals and the annual counts from statewide aerial surveys are considered minimum numbers only, and they cannot be used to calculate long-term population trends.” In other words, both the 400 and 4,000 are wild-ass guesses (WAG)–though maybe scientific wild-ass guess (SWAG).

Last year was really cold, so the manatees crowded the power plants and springs like never before, making for stunning pictures (like the one here by  Tom Reinert) and high counts. But that’s not a complete or accurate count. The cold was a big factor: 56 died from cold stress, more than double the five-year average.

But there were record deaths from other factors, too. The data show only 37 were found to have died of natural causes. That doesn’t mean people killed all the rest. Humans were directly tied to 97 from boats, 5 from locks and gates and 7 from other human-related causes. The rest are somewhat a mystery and manatee advocates think humans are tied to many more. 114 were described as “perinatal,” just meaning they were very young, and they believe many are really tied to people.

What

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Manatee Tours that Won’t Bother the Manatees

Crystal River 2009, Kevin provides a belly rub (dogs of the sea)

Crystal River 2009, Kevin provides a belly rub (dogs of the sea) ,originally uploaded by Kevin King.

Other marine mammals have etiquette standards. The Whale Sense or Dolphin Smart programs give tourists list of operators that play nice. But who’s smart about the 3,000 manatees left in the U.S.?

As an endangered species and marine mammal, manatees area already supposed to be protected, but go on YouTube and search “manatee harassment.” You’ll find videos of tourists coralling and chasing manatees, separating the mom and calf and even trying to ride or kick them. It’s like Crystal River, FL, tour operators live in a 1950s world where they feel entitled to sell the experience of touching, petting and scratching manatees. Do they then drive home without seatbelts into a house lined with asbestos and eat canned soup casserole for dinner? Haven’t they heard that’s not how you treat wild animals?

“It’s this culture of everybody that come to Crystal River,” says manatee advocate Tracy Colson. “It’s well-advertised that this is the only place where you can touch a manatee. It’s the only place in the world where you can interact with an endangered species.”

Tracy, a local, started volunteering with the Crystal River Wildlife Refuge by going out to guide manatee tourists to be respectful and was so upset with what she saw she started her own company, Nature Coast Kayak Tours.  In 2007 Save the Manatee named Tracy and Steve Kingery manatee heroes for documenting manatee harassment, which kicked off a controversy and push the Fish and Wildlife Service

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Ilya the Manatee Recovering, Impressing Ladies with His Sweetness

Ilya, the Florida manatee rescued from New York harbor two weeks ago, should be well enough to be released in the Florida Keys in about a month, says Dr. Maya Rodriguez, the veterinarian at the Miami Seaquarium, which supplied the picture of Ilya (left) swimming with his poolmate. “We expect him to get a clean medical mill in next couple weeks,” says Dr. Rodriguez. Identified by his mangled tail and white scar on his forehead, Ilya at least didn’t pick up any new distinguishing scars on his journey up to Cape Cod that perplexed marine biologists.  Stuck in the cold water of New York harbor, Ilya initially suffered cold stress, which can shut down manatees’ long digestive track and immune system. He lost about 100 of his 1,200 pounds, had low blood sugar and was having trouble digesting, Dr. Rodriguez says. A video (below) of the event shows him getting wrapped in mylar survival blankets and getting spritzed with water to keep moist. Ilya is recuperating in a 82 degree saltwater pool at the Seaquarium with an orphaned, female,  18-month-old manatee picked up in the Everglades and named Glade. Normally Dr. Rodriguez would be reluctant to put such a big male in with her but Ilya has been very gentle. “He’s just a really docile manatee,” Dr. Rodriguez says.  Ilya is unusual among manatees, which normally handle food just with their prehensible lips, because he grabs with his flippers. “He’s all flippers,” says Dr. Rodriguez. Ilya, who touches

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PEER to Sue for More Manatee Sanctuaries after Disturbing Videos of Manatee Harassment

About two years ago some local Florida manatee lovers took some disturbing video of tourists and tour guides pestering manatees. Tracy Colson and Steve Kingry posted shots on YouTube of tour guides holding manatees so that tourists could touch them. Some tourists also kicked them and tried to sit on the sea cows. Finally, about two years later, something might actually be done to protect this endangered species whose population has dwindled to about 3,000 from Florida hooligans.

Spurred on by the videos, this summer the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) officially asked the Fish and Wildlife Service to ban “Swim with Manatee” programs. Tourists aren’t supposed to get within 50 yards of dolphins or 100 yards of whales in NOAA’s (voluntary) guidelines for those tour operators. But at least there is some enforcement for whale boats. NOAA also won’t let tour operators show ads that have people interacting with, chasing, petting or riding whale or dolphins in the Dolphin Sense and Whale Smart programs. So how can tours advertise swimming with the far more endangered manatee?

Before I had heard about any of this going on in Florida, I saw ads online for sleazy outfits around Cancun that advertised Swim With Manatees programs. Yuck, I thought. Don’t people know that manatees (or any animals) don’t want to be forced to swim with them. But I had no idea there were plenty of places in Florida getting away with it, too. Then I read an incredible story travel

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Ilya the Manatee May Be Going Wrong Way–Back to NYC

Ilya, the missing manatee, may be headed the wrong way–back up to New York City, instead of down south to Florida and the warm water he needs to survive. Someone saw what they thought was a manatee near Bayonne, NJ, but by the time rescuers came out, there was no animal, says Bob Schoelkopf, founding director of Brigantine’s Marine Mammal Stranding Center, which would rescue Ilya if they could just find and catch him.

FWC photo by Tom Reinert

Ilya, who is 16 and known for his missing tail chunk and a white scar on his head, befuddled scientists by swimming from his native Miami all the way up to Cape Cod this summer. Now he needs to get to waters at least 68 degrees–the Carolinas at this time of year–or he could die.

The last time anyone definitely saw Ilya was when he ate a crate of lettuce from biologists outside the Conoco Phillips refinery in Linden, NJ, last Friday. Then he disappeared into the dark, cold waters of the Arthur Kill, the 10-mile tidal estuary between New Jersey and Staten Island. If that was him near Bayonne, that puts him in the Kill Van Kull, a shorter passage that’s a few miles closer to the Statue of Liberty, Manhattan and the heavy traffic of the Port of Newark.

But rescuers are dubious it really was Ilya. It’s not so much that they think there’s a second manatee up here–though one did spend the summer in Raritan Bay.

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Ilya the Travelling Manattee Missing Again

Ilya, the manatee that reappeared off Staten Island Thursday–way too far north for his safety–has gone missing again, thwarting any attempt to rescue him from the cold waters. Ilya ate a whole case of lettuce “and was last seen going back into the river,” says Chuck Underwood, a spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “This was late yesterday afternoon, and there’s been no sighting of the animal since then.”

Ilya, a 16-year-old manatee distinguished by his boat scars (a white one on his head and a missing chunk of tail), surprised biologists this summer by migrating all the way up to Cape Cod from his Florida home. Now he’s racing the cold weather–and seems to have been entranced by the false promise of warmth from the warm water run-off of an oil refinery in Elizabeth, NJ. The spot that he’s at is warm enough, says Underwood, but the rest of the Arthur Kill tidal estuary dips below his requisite 68 degrees. That means he should be in North Carolina by now, according to NOAA’s water temperature map. That’s about 200 miles, or three or four days manatee travel.

Biologists figured Ilya was safely headed to warmer waters after he wasn’t seen since an appearance in Milford, CT, on September  26. Then he showed up in a heavily industrial area. Underwood won’t say exactly where–but it’s guarded private property anyway.

The Brigantine Marine Mammal Stranding Station has plans to rescue him–if they can find him and catch

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Biologists Try to Rescue Ilya the Manatee from Elizabeth, NJ

 Ilya, the manatee who swam all the way up to Cape Cod from Florida this summer, may need to be rescued today from the stormy, cold waters off Elizabeth, NJ, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman Chuck Underwood says. The endangered 1,000-pound manatee was positively identified yesterday from photos taken near a refinery in Elizabeth, a heavily industrial part of New York harbor near Staten Island.

For weeks biologists and manatee lovers wondered where Ilya was, hoping he was making it back down to Florida, where manatees need to spend the winter to keep warm enough. He was last seen in Milford, CT, on September 26. So, everyone figured–or at least hoped–that he would be down at least around the Carolinas by now.

Then yesterday, Underwood says, the Wildlife Service got a call: “We’ve got your manatee.” A quick consultation with U.S. Geological Survey NOAA, which keeps an elaborate database of 2,000-some manatees known by their boating scars, confirmed it was Ilya. His run in with boats have made him easy to ID: he has a big chunk taken out of his tail and a white scar on his head. Nicole Adimey, who runs the manatee rescue and rehabilitation program says that he still is relatively lucky for a manatee: he’s never before had to be brought in for treatment.

Right now the wildlife service is trying to keep Ilya in place at a private, undisclosed refinery while a Nor’easter storm blows through. He was attracted to the

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Meet the Manatee Profiler

When I heard of biologists using manatees’ many boat scars to tell them apart, I pictured a fast CSI-like computer sorting flippers like fingerprints until, seconds later, MATCH flashed on the screen. Unfortunately, says wildlife biologist Cathy Beck, who runs the program for the U.S. Geological Survey, it’s a lot more slow and still requires a human to make a match. (Cops say the same thing about fingerprint matching, too.)

“Years ago we looked at various software,” she says. “It’s way out of the kind of budget we’d ever get.”

So the Geological Survey mantains a meticulous database of 2,200 known manatees known as the Manatee Photo Identification System (MIPS). Of those 300 are known to be dead. With a U.S. population roughly estimated at about 3,000 to 4,000, that could be half the population. But the facts about manatees and their populations are so uncertain that Beck doesn’t like to speculate.

Instead, she’s trying to make sure everything in the database is certain. So, she only allows in manatees that have at least two distinguishing features. There has to be pictures of each manatee’s tail, back and each side. In theory that could be done with just four pictures, she says “but that’s never happened.” And then the match has to be verified by two humans. Complicating the process, manatees are constantly aquiring new injuries and changing their appearance. “We need to keep up,” Beck says. “A new injury may obliterate an old feature.”

At least two

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