The gentle mermaid manatees making an appearance again
MOUNT PLEASANT — Three manatees lolled their way up boat-busy Shem Creek on Friday, past the commercial docks and the restaurants, startling some onlookers but not surprising waterfront veterans.
Looks like a fat seal with a whiskery puppy dog face.
Grows to more than a half-ton and 14 feet long.
Fifty or more sightings are made in South Carolina estuaries each year, nearly half of them around Charleston.
Wildlife officials urge boaters to watch out for manatees and other endangered and threatened species such as sea turtles. Cut back the throttle and keep propellers away.
Sources: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, S.C. Department of Natural Resources
The beloved, slow-moving sea mammals were just doing their thing. That was the problem. It made them vulnerable.
Manatee are a threatened species, and boat propellers are considered a leading threat.
S.C. Department of Natural Resources officers responded to a call but didn’t see the manatees, said Lt. Robert McCullough. “But it is that time of year,” he said, urging boater caution.
Manatees are the ponderous, seemingly misshapen creatures that inspired the myth of mermaids.
They are one of the not-so-often-spotted wonders of the Lowcountry coast. A few dozen each year are thought to move up from their wintering Florida waters, and are seen repeatedly over the summer. Some suspect the numbers are increasing as Florida develops.
Manatees tend to turn up near docks, particularly where a freshwater spigot runs. But they roam estuaries and tidal rivers like dolphins, hunting food. They have been seen as far upstream as the Tailrace Canal in Moncks Corner.
They tend to poke along, surfacing to breathe.
Christopher “Chappy” Chappell, Magwood Marina worker, was among the people who saw them Friday.
“It’s cool,” he said, just not unusual this time of year. They regularly surface at the Magwood dock in the mornings, where they can sip fresh water if it’s running and nibble on shrimp discards.
When they’re spotted on weekends, kayakers and paddleboarders will work around them to watch.
“They’re very friendly animals. They aren’t shy. They check things out, roll over. They’re just like a curious puppy dog,” Chappell said.
“When it’s real slick and calm, you can actually see them move pretty clearly.”
And if you don’t spot one right away, you will smell it, he said. The odor is rank and distinct.
“They smell like three days after an oyster roast, when the shells have been baking in the sun. It’s kind of funky,” he said.
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