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Do we have manatees in North Carolina?

March 16, 2005


Not often. You’re more likely to see manatees in Florida.  However, they occasionally wander into North Carolina waters.


There are two sub-species of West Indian manatees (Trichechus manatus); Antillean manatees and Florida manatees. The first group inhabits parts of Central and South America, and the latter inhabits the southeastern United States, particularly Florida.


During summer, Florida manatees may migrate north as they follow the warming waters. They have been sighted in Georgia and the Carolinas, and one of the most famous traveling manatees was “Chessie.”


In 1994, Chessie was captured and tagged in the Chesapeake Bay. Because it was cold weather, Chessie was released off the Florida coast. Chessie was found the next year in Rhode Island and has been sighted in the Chesapeake Bay since. 

Florida manatee


Manatees, also known as “sea cows,” are unique marine mammals. They are large and gray with wrinkled faces, and they are excellent swimmers. Their strong, paddle-like tails propel them slowly through the water as they search for food. These sea creatures, once mistaken as mermaids by sailors, are typically about 11 feet long and weigh about 2,200 pounds.


Manatees graze on a wide variety of grasses and plants in rivers, bays, estuaries and coastal areas. They can live in fresh and salt water, but Florida manatees appear to need a source of fresh water. They have been seen hanging out at river mouths and drinking from hoses and culverts.


These gentle giants are threatened by loss of habitat, poaching, entanglement in fishing gear, and ever increasing boating activity. Researchers have come to identify individuals by the different scar patterns that result from boat collisions.


The Florida manatee is listed as endangered and is protected by federal and state laws. It is illegal to harass, capture or kill a manatee. Because they are slow reproducers, manatees are not able to easily increase their population; therefore, they need our help.


Boaters should respect posted boating speeds and always be on the alert for these slow-moving creatures. Also, we can support efforts to protect sea-grass areas and improve water quality. Together, we can protect these unusual animals and ensure they will be around for future generations to enjoy.