Manatee spotted near downtown Memphis

Published 6:49 pm Wednesday, October 25, 2006

An adventurous manatee strayed far from its usual coastal habitat to make an appearance on a Mississippi River tributary near downtown Memphis on Monday.

The distance on the curvy river from near its delta in Louisiana to Memphis is more than 725 miles, according to Army Corps of Engineers charts.

“I got a call about 3 p.m. about either a hippo or a manatee in the water,” said Andy Tweed, an officer with the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency. Officers from the agency and zoologists from the Memphis Zoo confirmed the sighting and observed the animal from boats.

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The endangered species generally prefers warm coastal waters ranging from Alabama to South Carolina, although there were sightings this August along the East Coast up to Rhode Island.

In winter months, they usually stay in coastal waters off Florida, often congregating near the warm-water discharges of power plants.

“If he did swim from Florida, he’s doing really well,” Tweed said, estimating its size between eight and 10 feet, and its weight up to 1,000 pounds.

Tennessee officials were working with experts in Florida to decide what to do next. The agency planned to track the animal again Tuesday morning by helicopter and restrict private boat traffic in the harbor of the Wolf River, a tributary that meets the Mississippi just north of downtown Memphis.