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Another manatee sighting in Baltimore

Another manatee sighting in Baltimore

A manatee may still be lurking around Baltimore's harbor, according to the National Aquarium, but the wandering sea cow from Florida is in increasing jeopardy as water temperatures drop.

A kayaker reported seeing a manatee late Thursday morning in the upper Patapsco River near Harbor Hospital, the aquarium said.  It's just the latest of several elusive sightings in the past few weeks.  But with only one photograph (seen above) taken at Swann Park in the  Middle Branch in August, biologists have been unable to confirm its continued presence or identify it.

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"We have received scattered reports of manatee sightings over the past three weeks, but they are scattered, and no photographic evidence exists," Jennifer Dittmar, stranding coordinator for the aquarium's marine animal rescue program, said in a statement.  She said aquarium staff are working with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists from Florida to monitor the animal, but with no pictures or consistent sightings, "we are having trouble tracing its movements and assessing its health."

With water temperatures in the river dipping to 60 degrees Fahrenheit, it's becoming too cold for manatees and their preferrred food source, submerged aquatic grasses.  Aquarium staff think the animal may be swimming in and out of the Middle Branch to find food, movement that they said could be complicating their search for it.  That, and the fact that the slow-moving mammals can be hard to spot from a distance.

Aquarium staff are asking anyone on or around the harbor, especially the Middle Branch, to keep an eye out, looking for the manatee's smooth back or nostrils possibly poking out of the water, or for the telltale smooth "footprint" one creates on the surface as it slowly swims along.  The animals can be nine or 10 feet long and weigh 1,000 pounds.

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Anyone who sees what appears to be a manatee is asked to call in the time and location to a hotline, 410-373-0083, or to email recent photos to marp@aqua.org with details of where and when it was seen.  Aquarium staff urge boaters to slow down, especially in shallow waters or inlets, to avoid stsriking the animal.  Also, anyone who spots a manatee is cautioned to stay back, as it's a violation of federal law to harm or harrass marine mammals.

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Concerns for the manatee's health in Maryland's frigid winters are all too real.  A dead one was found on the shore of the Patuxent River in April, according to the aquarium, six months after one had been seen swimming in the river.

(Photos courtesy National Aquarium)

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