A meandering manatee has gone where few, if any, of his large, lumbering species have gone before: Cape Cod.
The manatee, which biologists believe is the same one spotted in the Hudson River two weeks ago, was spied in the waters off Falmouth, Mass., on Aug. 17. The creature, which officials believe is about 12 feet long and weighs 1,500 pounds, was last seen off North Kingstown, R.I., on Tuesday, hundred of miles from its home off the Florida coast.
"It's, to our knowledge, the northernmost sighting of a manatee ever documented," said Cathy Beck, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Gainesville, Fla.
"He's the talk of the town," said Gail Mastrati, a spokeswoman for the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, who said a kayaking family last spotted the animal, which some onlookers christened Marvin, around noon Tuesday.
The manatee has had quite an adventure. It ventured up the Hudson; supped from a drainage pipe in Warwick, R.I.; and, the Cape Cod Times reported, stopped for a snack of eelgrass in Falmouth Harbor, where it was spotted by a snorkeler. It now appears to be headed back south. Biologists do not know why it went so far north. Beck suspects it latched onto a warm ocean current. The waters off Cape Cod have been unusually warm compared with last year, said Tony LaCasse, a spokesman for the New England Aquarium.
Manatees typically live in inlets and shallow coastal waters in Florida. But in the summer, it is common for them to travel as far north as the Carolinas, hugging the coastline and exploring inlets, Beck said.
Rhode Island is not completely foreign territory. A manatee nicknamed Chessie, who was rescued from Chesapeake Bay in 1994, swam up to Rhode Island the following summer. LaCasse said a manatee was spotted off Point Judith, R.I., a few years ago.
But until now, Cape Cod was uncharted manatee territory. LaCasse said tropical species often make it to the Point Judith area but then turn around, as tropical-type waters break off into the colder water of the North Atlantic.
"For this guy to get up around the corner, that's significant," LaCasse said.