Photo courtesy of Taylor Rudisill
At around 3:30 p.m. on June 5., Taylor Rudisill was on his father's dock at 440 Causeway Drive, washing his boat, when he saw what he initially believed to be a large dead shark drifting in his direction.
What Rudisill saw however, was an adult manatee. These docile, herbivorous marine mammals can grow up to 12 feet long, weigh up to 2,000 pounds, earning them the nickname of sea cow.
“I grew up on Harbor Island,” Rudisill said. “I've spent a lot of time on Mason's Inlet and I've been fishing all through the creeks. Still, I was pretty aghast at what I was seeing at Wrightsville Beach. The thing was huge.”
Ann Pabst, professor of marine biology at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, explained that manatees are actually fairly common visitors to the Crystal Coast between the months of June and October, however, because few records of their visitations have been kept until recent years, it's hard to know just how common they are.
“We believe we're seeing animals that live in Florida and Georgia,” Pabst said. “They make their way up here, and into more northern states like Virginia when the water starts warming, and then travel back down south when it begins to cool off.”
Temperatures as high as 68 degree Fahrenheit can cause frostbite-like skin problems for manatees, explaining their preference for warmer waters
Because the manatee Rudisill saw on June 5., appeared to have mud on it's back, Rudisill began to spray it with a hose. The manatee pointed it's head towards him, rolled over on it's back, and began drinking from the hose.
Pabst explained that is not what you should do if you encounter a manatee.
“When you invite a wild animal to close interaction, it gives them the idea that being around humans and boats is safe, which it's not. Many manatees are killed by boats every year.”
Manatees’ slow pace, poor directional hearing, and tendency to frequent the warm, shallow waters of marinas and waterways where boats are found often put them in harm’s way.
“If you're in a boat and you see one,” Pabst said. “Slow down and keep a safe distance. Alert the folks who run the marina, and the coast guard if it's in a heavy boat traffic area. Just like any other wild animal, you don't want to directly interact with it. Don't feed, water or touch it. Just let it keep doing it's own thing.”
Pabst also asks that people report sightings to the UNCW Marine Mammal Program. UNCW is currently collecting sighting and stranding data and comparing it with water temperatures across the Atlantic seaboard in order to further understand correlation between the two.
To report manatee strandings or sightings, please call 910-962-7266.
A photo of Rudisill’s manatee may be found on Lumina News facebook page http://www.facebook.com/LuminaNews