A curious manatee from Key West is lost in New York

October 17, 2009 at 5:12 pm Leave a comment

Call him a bohemian behemoth.

There he was, a warm-water loving South Florida manatee, some, 1,300 miles from home, in the New York Harbor.

“It’s Ilya,” said Charles Underwood, a spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Finding Ilya has been biologists’ quest for months. The intrepid manatee from Key West, distinctive by the scarring on its side and the chunk of tail missing, was never much of a wanderer.

Then in September, a woman in Maryland reported she had been scared by some odd creature while taking sailing lessons. She took a picture; it turned out to be Ilya. A group of locals in Massachusetts were wowed by a sea cow a few days later. They even tossed him sandwiches. Again, it was Ilya.

Then there have been the sightings around New York City suburbs.

But for the past two weeks, no one has reported seeing a manatee, or any creature matching Ilya’s description.

Then, success. On Thursday, Underwood said the Jacksonville-based Fish and Wildlife Service received a report of a manatee loitering around a private property in the harbor. They begged the local marine biologists to keep him there as long as they could.

How to get a manatee to stay in one place?

Staff hopes he’s as gluttonous as he is curious. They are tossing him heads of lettuce and carrots and warm fresh water to drink.

Each year, two or three manatees are known to drift to the northeast, though the numbers are increasing. Biologists aren’t completely sure why. Global warming isn’t ruled out. But the more likely theory has to do with the increase in the number of manatees in the past few years — current counts say there at least 3,800 in Florida. They might have to travel farther north to get less competition for food.

While the sight excites an unassuming sailor, there is a problem. When temperatures sink below 68 degrees, manatees can succumb to hypothermia and die.

Thursday night, the temperture in the harbor was in the low 60s.

Ilya is at least seven feet long, but the scientists aren’t sure of his weight. Adult manatees can weigh as much as a ton.

Biologists have prepared a large net and on Friday hope to sling it around him, then use a large crane to lift him onto a boat. They’ll put Ilya in a large tank and board him on ahelicopter round enough to hold him. Then Ilya will get a one-way flight to Florida.

But there’s a rainstorm — with 30 mph winds — expected to slam the northeast. The stormmakes the plan a little more dangerous for Ilya and for the humans trying to get him back south.

Said Underwood: “This is going to be tough.”

By Robert Samuels

Miami Herald

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Entry filed under: Dive In, Natural Waterfront, Region. Tags: , , , .

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