- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 22, 2009

BALTIMORE | A wayward manatee videotaped in the Chesapeake Bay isn’t Chessie, who traveled as far as Rhode Island after being rescued from the Bay in the 1990s, but a younger male called Ilya.

Ilya hasn’t been seen outside the Miami area before, said Bob Bonde, a biologist at the U.S. Geological Survey in Gainesville, Fla., where the manatee was identified through unique tail scarring. The USGS has a database of manatee photographs it uses to identify the endangered marine mammals, whose population numbers about 4,000 in Florida.

First photographed as a calf in 1994, Ilya was spotted over the weekend near Havre de Grace, Md., in the upper Chesapeake, where a police officer took a video and photographs used in identifying the manatee.

Havre de Grace police Officer Marcus Rodriguez said he shot the video with a department-issued camera after responding to a call near the Heron Harbor marina and condominium complex.

“It’s the joy of the job,” Officer Rodriguez told the Cecil Whig.

Officer Rodriguez told the newspaper that the manatee “was feeding on grasses and swimming in about 4 feet of water” within 10 or 15 feet of shore.

Jen Dittmar, stranding coordinator at the National Aquarium’s Marine Animal Rescue Program, said manatees are seen almost every year in the Chesapeake Bay, and Ilya didn’t appear in any danger.

Mr. Bonde said a manatee died last year after swimming to Massachusetts and failing to return to warmer waters, but it isn’t unusual for males to wander in search of new territory and females.

Florida is at the upper edge of the year-round habitat of manatees, which are found down to Brazil. But Mr. Bonde said sightings in more northern waters are becoming more common as the Florida population grows. That manatee population is now up from a low of 700 to 1,000 in the 1970s, he added.

The most famous Chesapeake visitor was nicknamed Chessie after it wandered into the Bay in the mid-1990s; it was later trapped and airlifted back to Florida. Scientists were concerned he wouldn’t make it back on his own before the waters chilled in autumn.

After Chessie’s rescue, a tracking device was attached to the manatee, and he was found as far north as Rhode Island. Ms. Dittmar said Chessie hasn’t been seen in the area since he was spotted in Virginia in 2001.

Ms. Dittmar urged boaters who see Ilya to report the sighting to the Maryland Natural Resources Police and to be careful not to get too close to the manatee in order to avoid harming the animal.

“Basically, just let it be a wild animal, don’t feed it or touch it” or do anything that may lead it to stay longer in the area than it should, Ms. Dittmar said.

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