Manatee on the Run

*Manatee pictured is not actually Ilya.Photo: iStockphoto

Ilya, a Florida-based manatee, is heading toward New York Harbor. Manatees don’t usually travel north of Georgia, but he’s been seen as far up as Cape Cod this year, possibly in search of a mate. Since he needs water that’s warmer than 68 degrees—about what the harbor is now, with winter on the way—he needs to return home quickly. If he’s spotted, biologists will entice him with lettuce and fresh drinking water (manatees drink only freshwater, which is why they’re always near rivers) before driving or flying him back home.

• In the past, manatees have been slaughtered, their skin used for leather, and their meat eaten. A related species was hunted to extinction by Russians in the Arctic.

• This year, 74 manatees have died from boat collisions on the u.s. coast.

• The Obama administration announced on September 29 that it was undertaking a review of Ford-era manatee protections with an eye toward strengthening them.

• Estimated population of manatees along the U.S. coast, in federal fish and wildlife service counts:
1973: 1,700
2008: 3,800

• Manatees eat 10 to 15 percent of their 750–2,000-pound body weight a day, in sea grass and mangrove leaves.

• Christopher Columbus identified manatees as mermen.

Who Is Ilya?
First identified as a calf with his mom off Miami in 1994, Ilya was only seen near his hometown and the Keys until this year. He’s known for the “uniquely shaped chunk” taken out of his tail by a boat propeller and another boating scar on his head.

Ilya’s Journey
1. July 18, Havre De Grace, Md.: Spooks woman taking sailing lessons.
2. August 23, Monmouth Cove, N.J.: Lolls on back to drink freshwater dripping from a boat.
3. September 12, East Dennis, Mass.: Finds local residents eager to give him half-eaten sandwiches and freshwater (which is prohibited by federal law, since it teaches the animals to hang around docks, where they get killed by boat propellers).
4. September 14, Orleans, Mass.: Swims in circles for a few hours.
5. September 26, Milford, Conn.: Two hundred residents flock to a footbridge after a sighting. One calls the cops, worried that someone might shoot him.

What to Do if You See Him:
Turn off boat propellers. Call the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (631-776-1401). Try to get a clear picture, especially of the tail, for identification.

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Manatee on the Run