Manatees continue to appear in New Jersey waters, a marine mammal expert says.
Normally found in Florida waters, the friendly, mostly herbivorous marine mammals, also known as “sea cows,” were first spotted in the Delaware River last month, according to the Brigantine-based Marine Mammal Stranding Center.
They have now been spotted south of the Barnegat Bay in the Great Bay, which is “one of the least-disturbed marine wetlands habitats in the northeastern United States,” according to wikipedia.org.
The marine mammals serve as a barometer on the health of marine ecosystems, according to Marine Science Today.
“Manatees are the proverbial ‘canaries in the mineshaft,’ as they serve as indicators of their environment and may reflect the overall health of marine ecosystems,” Alonso Aguirre, executive director of the Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation, told the publication.
While rare in Mid-Atlantic waters but not without precedent, manatees are prone to serious injury because of their slow-moving, curious nature, marine mammal experts say.
Sheila Dean of the Marine Mammal Stranding Center advises boaters to be aware of the possibility of manatees in the water.
“These warm temperatures are keeping manatees in our area,” she wrote on the center’s Facebook page. “Keep a lookout while you’re cruising in your boats and jet-skis, especially in areas near marshes and docks.”
The marine mammal is protected by the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 and the Endangered Species Act of 1973.
“Observations may include a swirl on the surface caused by the manatee when diving; seeing the animals back, snout, tail, or flipper break the surface of the water; or hearing it when it surfaces to breathe,” according to a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission viewing guide.
According to Dean, anyone who spots a manatee should slow down and call the center at (609) 266-0538.
“US Fish and Wildlife is monitoring these protected animals, and we give them updates on where the manatees are being spotted,” she wrote.