Chessie surfaces again after a ten-year absence

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Chessie surfaces again after a ten-year absence

[Ed. Note: Learn more about these gentle giants: Cold Temperatures Take a Tragic Toll on Manatees, Manatee Mom and Calf Rescued and Then Released, Meet a Manatee: Deep Dent.]

From Save the Manatee Club


Chessie the manatee is spotted in the Chesapeake Bay in Calvert County, Maryland on July 12, 2011. If you look closely, you can see the long, gray scar on his left side that helps to identify him. Chessie was last seen in 2001 at the Great Bridge Locks in Virginia.
(Photo courtesy of Hank Curtis.)

A famous manatee, Chessie first gained the attention of people up and down the Eastern Seaboard 17 years ago after he was sighted in the Chesapeake Bay in July of 1994.

Chessie the manatee is alive and well! We received this wonderful news on the wandering manatee when he was spotted in the Chesapeake Bay in mid-July. His identity was verified by Cathy Beck, a biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Sirenia Project (USGS), an agency that tracks manatees along the east coast of the United States. The last confirmed sighting of Chessie was in 2001.

It was July 12, 2011 when Chessie was spotted by two citizens in Calvert County, Maryland. The residents took photos and contacted Jennifer Dittmar, Coordinator for the Northeast Marine Mammal Stranding Network at the National Aquarium in Baltimore. Dittmar forwarded the photos to Beck, who was able to identify Chessie by matching the recent photos with his photographic record in the USGS manatee database. One distinctive mark that helps to identify Chessie is a long, gray scar on his left side.

A famous manatee, Chessie first gained the attention of people up and down the Eastern Seaboard 17 years ago after he was sighted in the Chesapeake Bay in July of 1994. Although manatees can be found outside of Florida in the summer, Chessie’s Maryland appearance was rare as summer sightings typically occur in Alabama, Georgia, or South Carolina.

By the end of September 1994, the weather turned cold, and Chessie showed no inclination to return home on his own. He had to be rescued so he wouldn't die from cold stress. A team that included experts from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, SeaWorld Orlando, the National Aquarium in Baltimore, and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources was assembled, and Save the Manatee Club provided substantial financial support for the rescue. On October 1st, Chessie was located near the headwaters of Queenstown Creek and successfully captured after a 4-hour effort. He spent several days at the aquarium before he was flown back to Florida by the U.S. Coast Guard. After a week of observation, Chessie was tagged with a transmitter and released back into the wild. He was also included in Save the Manatee Club's Adopt-A-Manatee program.

When the summer of 1995 came around, Chessie headed back north again, being tracked all the while by USGS researchers. He visited the Chesapeake Bay and set a new manatee migration record by going as far as Point Judith, Rhode Island. This time, however, he returned to Florida on his own for the winter. In June 1996, he was tracked again as he crossed the Florida-Georgia border. But by July of that year, Chessie had lost his transmitter near Beaufort, North Carolina, and scientists had to rely on visual sightings. Since that time, there have only been two other verified sightings of Chessie: one in August 1996 in Portsmouth, Virginia, and another in A

Scientists are not sure whether Chessie visits the Chesapeake Bay every year. While manatee sightings in the northeast are rare, they are not unprecedented, as researchers believe that migration from Florida to the Chesapeake Bay may have been common for manatees in previous centuries. Prior to Chessie’s Rhode Island visit, the farthest north a manatee had been sighted was in the Potomac River. However, Chessie’s migration record was broken in the summer of 2006 when a “mystery manatee” (never identified) was sighted in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Ilya the manatee was also spotted at the Cape in 2009 before being rescued from chilly waters near New Jersey in October of that year.

Currently, there are no plans to rescue Chessie. Manatees are a semi-tropical species and can’t tolerate prolonged exposure to water temperatures below 68 degrees F, but water temperatures in the Chesapeake Bay area are still warm. It is hoped that Chessie and other northeastern manatees start heading south on their own when the weather gets cooler.

Please report all possible sightings of a manatee in Maryland waters to the National Aquarium’s Stranding Hotline at 410-373-0083, and send photo images to marp@aqua.org. Other residents living along the Eastern Seaboard and Gulf of Mexico are also reminded to report manatee sightings to their local Marine Mammal Stranding Network. Stranding network phone numbers are posted at the following link:
www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/health/networks.htm.

In addition, Save the Manatee Club urges the public to remain at a distance when observing manatees and not provide food or water as this may prolong the manatees’ stay when they should be on a steady trek back to their winter home in Florida.

Special thanks to the USGS Sirenia Project for their news release on this issue.