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Manatee favors new haunts


The manatee that traveled more than 500 miles from Florida to the Chesapeake Bay last fall has apparently bypassed his home away from home this year for other swimming holes along the Atlantic Coast.

Chessie, the 1,500-pound, 11-foot mammal that captured hearts and headlines last summer when he meandered into Queenstown Creek, was floating off Hog Island in Virginia Monday night.

"We're just waiting to see" his next move, said Linda Taylor, a spokeswoman with the Chesapeake Bay Field Office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "He may go back up to the bay, but it seems like he might be resting up at Hog Island. He's done a lot of swimming."

The manatee is feeding off some of the rich marine vegetation around the Eastern Shore island, Ms. Taylor said. One thing is for sure. Chessie won't be making any surprise appearances on this trip.

On Monday night, Jim Reid, a scientist with National Biological Services in Gainesville, Fla., swam out to Chessie and fitted the manatee with a new satellite transmitter.

The new transmitter has a 4-foot-long fiberglass antenna attached to a yellow rubber belt that wraps around his tail, said James A. Valade, chief biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Jacksonville, Fla. The antenna, extending upward to the water's surface, permits observers in Florida to monitor the manatee's movements as long as the tip of the rod breaks the surface, Mr. Valade said.

The old transmitter did not have the rod and sent signals only when Chessie rose to the water's surface.

"Having this satellite tag will allow us to keep a close eye on him," Mr. Valade said.

Chessie left Florida on June 15 and was sighted off Norfolk, Va., on July 4. The manatee traveled the distance in 19 days, averaging 28 miles per day.

Late in September, Chessie made a big splash when he popped up in the cool waters of the Chesapeake Bay. Fearful that the 70-degree water would drop to near-fatal temperatures, scientists made numerous attempts to capture the manatee for transporting back to Florida. After eight days, the team of rescuers corralled Chessie, one of about 1,820 manatees left in Florida, and flew him back home. Although he didn't know why Chessie returned to the area, Mr. Valade did note the curious dispositions of manatees.

Then again, Mr. Valade said, Chessie may have had another reason. "I think that probably one of the reasons is that he found an area that he liked," Mr. Valade said. "There's little doubt that he went up to find what he had found before."

While Mr. Valade was concerned that Chessie might force scientists to repeat last year's laborious effort to return him to Florida, he did say there were no plans to do so.

"We just hope that he gets it into his mind that he needs to head down south soon," Mr. Valade said.

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