A West Indian Manatee was spotted swimming in the Oregon Inlet Marina last Saturday afternoon, causing visitors to pause and snap a few photos of the surprise encounter. Though it was gone by Sunday, the visit was not entirely unusual for either the harbor-oriented area, or the time of year.
The Cape Hatteras National Seashore reports that manatees often move north in the summer, following warm waters and looking for sources of food. They prefer shallow, slow moving water such as around inlets and estuaries, and are herbivores that feed on a wide variety of vegetation. In addition, they can freely travel between fresh and marine water habitats, which means that when they are spotted locally, it’s generally close to area harbors and inlets such as the Oregon Inlet Marina, or Hatteras Landing, where a manatee was caught on tape splashing around the local charter boats in July of 2016.
Manatees were reclassified from Endangered to Threatened in 2017 under the Endangered Species Act. Watercraft collisions, poaching and loss of habitat remain major threats to this species’ survival. An estimated 6,500 manatees are found in the southeastern United States and Puerto Rico, per the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.