September 5, 2010

Manatee is hanging out near the Hatteras Inlet ferry docks


According to U.S. Coast Guard records, a manatee was spotted this morning at 10:05 a.m. at the ferry docks in Hatteras. 

While few folks have actually seen the manatee, it is rumored to be swimming around between the Coast Guard station at Hatteras Inlet, where it was spotted this morning, and Hatteras Landing.

The manatee, a very large, very gentle ocean mammal is almost exclusively found in warmer, tropical and sub-tropical waters, but, according to Lou Browning, a local wildlife rehabilitator. He said it’s not terribly uncommon to spot them every now and again in Hatteras.

“It’s not that rare that they pass through here,” he said, noting that for quite some time, there was a manatee that would come and hang out each year around the southern tip of Hatteras. 

Browning said that manatees seem to like the southern end of Hatteras—in particular, they seem to like the sound between the Coast Guard station and Lee Robinson General Store—perhaps because of the warmer water, the topography of the bottom, or the presence of a certain kind of grass that the herbivorous creatures enjoy.

But, regardless of his (or her) reason for visiting Hatteras, on thing seems clear—the manatee has picked a rather precarious hide-out.

Boat traffic is always a peril to the manatee. While quite intelligent, manatees are also extremely curious, and, perhaps most detrimentally, extremely slow swimmers.  The constant ferry traffic, not to mention the hundreds of other boats that traverse that channel and fish the sound, could prove very dangerous for the gentle “sea cow.”

And that seems to be the biggest concern for the government entities in Hatteras.

The ferry captains have been instructed to proceed very slowly and very cautiously in and out of the area, and the boats have lookouts on each corner, keeping an eye out for the manatee. In addition, the Coast Guard was planning to issue a marine broadcast later today to alert boaters to the presence of the manatee and urge them to exercise caution when going in and out of the docks and when using the channel.

According to Browning, that’s about all we can do to protect the creature, which is federally protected as an endangered species.  Because it’s not considered a stranding, it’s not injured or otherwise in need of care, and it’s certainly not breaking any rules, the only thing that can be done is to make as many people aware of its presence as possible and hope that they will be cautious.

For more information on manatees, here’s a good place to start:

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