Conditions turn life threatening for wayward manatee in Chesapeake Bay

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Chilly, rainy weather is raising concern for a rare Florida Manatee that has been seen in the Chesapeake region more than 700 miles from its home waters.

Now, people who may see the manatee are being asked to call the Virginia Aquarium's 24-hour Stranding Response Hotline so experts can consider whether to stage a rescue of the wayward animal.

"Manatees can't survive in water temperatures below about 60 degrees Fahrenheit, and were getting close to that now," said marine science technician Corey Holbert, who spotted the manatee in the boat basin of the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences on the York River in Gloucester November 1.

The six to eight foot long manatee swam upriver after the sighting.  

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"That was not encouraging because the direction to get out of the bay is the other way," Holbert said.

The manatee has not been sighted since. Now conditions are turning life threatening if the animal is continuing to linger in the region.

The body of another wayward manatee was recovered from the bay near Baltimore in November 2016 after it failed to return to warmer waters in the south in time.

Manatees were removed from the federal endangered species list in 2016. They are now listed as threatened.  There are approximately 6300 manatees believed to be in US waters.

There have been 12 manatee sightings in the Chesapeake Bay since 1994. Two have died.  

A manatee nicknamed "Chessie" was captured near the Bay Bridge in 1994 and flown back to Florida by the US Coast Guard. Chessie has returned to the bay region at least twice since then. The latest appearance was in St. Leonard creek in Calvert County in 2011.

The animals are attracted by underwater grasses which are their preferred food.

The record for wayward manatees was set in September 2016 when one was captured at Falmouth Bay in Cape Cod. Like Chessie, that manatee was also rescued and flown by the Coast Guard back to Florida because scientists believed it would not have survived cooling waters during the return journey.

The Virginia Aquarium's 24-hour Stranding Response hotline is 757-385-7575