Nov. 22, 1996News-Journal Web Edition 1996 News-Journal Corp.
Wandering manatee tries East Coast this time
ST. PETERSBURG (AP) -- Sweet Pea, the wandering manatee, is exploring East Coast waters nine months after she had to be flown home to Florida's West Coast from Texas.
That makes her the first of her endangered species with documented travel on both of Florida's coasts, scientists said Thursday.
"Some of her behaviors aren't normal for a female manatee," said Brad Weigle, a biologist at the Florida Marine Research Institute here. "The constant motion we haven't seen before."
Researchers with the state-run institute and the U.S. Geological Survey have been tracking Sweet Pea's movements by satellite and ground-based radio receivers.
They strapped a transmitter around her tail when she was released at the headwaters of the Homosassa River in April after recuperating from her Texas adventure. She was rescued from a wastewater treatment plant in Houston before being flown to Florida.
Once free, she again took a northwest turn, swimming up the west coast to the Florida Panhandle where she remained all summer before heading back south in late September.
But she never stopped. Sweet Pea traveled through the Everglades National Park as far south as Marathon and Wednesday arrived in Biscayne Bay. She continued on a northward track Thursday through Miami north of the Rickenbacker Causeway, Weigle said.
Although she is heading north at a time of year when manatees usually migrate in the opposite direction, scientists aren't worried about her yet. Many of the animals congregate for the winter in the warm water adjacent to power plants. She should come across a couple of the plants if she maintains her northbound course, Weigle said.
Sweet Pea is unusual because female manatees tend to stay in the same place although males often roam great distances, he said.
Scientists have been cataloging manatees based on scar patterns on their skin. Until Sweet Pea came along, however, they had never before identified the same manatee on both coasts.
Such travels, however, probably have occurred because studies show east and west coast manatees are genetically the same, Weigle said.
Another manatee renowned for his travels was dubbed Chessie after he showed up in Chesapeake Bay in 1994 and was flown back to Florida. Last year, he again swam north as far as Rhode Island but made it back to Florida on his own for the winter.
Chessie this summer was spotted as far north as Annapolis, Md., but he lost his transmitter and scientists are unsure of his whereabouts.