Mind the critters. You're not the only one out on the water now that summer is here.

Endangered manatees are back and are being spotted around Charleston harbor. Struggling least terns have begun nesting on the Ravenel bridge, and their young are falling off. Dead dolphin continue to wash up on the coast.

On the brighter side, a virtually dead loggerhead turtle has been revived and might well make it back to the sea.

The common thread is to watch for the wildlife when you're out; a lot of them are species of concern. Keep your distance. Slow the motor down. Report any problems you find.

Sick dolphin

Five bottlenose dolphin were found dead in the past week in South Carolina waters, four of them in the Charleston area. They are most likely the latest among more than 1,300 estimated to have died on the East Coast from a virus outbreak that started in 2013. The long-term average for deaths in that same time span is fewer than 300.

The morbillivirus occurs periodically and eventually dies out. This outbreak has been a bad one.

Overall, about 60 dolphins have been found in South Carolina so far this year, said Wayne McFee, National Ocean Service marine mammal stranding program scientist. The strandings seemed to be slowing down here before the recent five.

The virus isn't contagious to humans, but a sick dolphin can have other infections that are. If you come across a stranded dolphin or whale, don't approach it or let pets approach it. Don't try to push the animal back into the water. Contact the Marine Mammal Stranding Network hotline, 1-800-922-5431.

'Fun' with manatee

The simplest way to get a lingering manatee to surface at your dock is to run a hose into the water. That's also illegal.

S.C. Department of Natural Resources wildlife officers have already responded to two reports in Charleston of people holding hoses from docks to lure manatee. That's the same as baiting wildlife and dangerous for the manatee.

"The more time they spend at a marina, the likelihood of getting hit by a boat skyrockets," said Al Segars, DNR veterinarian.

The bulbous, seal-like mammal with the puppy dog face is a summer visitor to the Lowcountry, moving up from Florida wintering grounds. Already 26 sightings have been reported, 10 of them around Charleston. Some 50 or more sightings are reported each year, about half near Charleston.

The manatee is a federally endangered species. Fewer than 50,000 are known to exist and the numbers are dropping. Manatees like to loll on the surface and are slow swimmers, so boat strikes are a major threat.

To report an injured manatee, 1-800-922-5431. To report a sighting, go to www.scdnr.gov/manatee.

Flying too high

The spectacular flights of pelicans, black skimmers, oyster catchers and other shorebirds are the summer eye-catchers of the coast. Just don't spook a colony to see the flock scurry.

Nearly wiped out in the early 20th century when their feathers became prized for hats, shorebirds are struggling now simply because there are fewer and fewer relatively undisturbed places for them to nest and raise hatchlings.

Maybe the best example is one of the smallest, the tiny least tern, the whirling acrobat of the sky.

Least terns like to nest at the pebbly edges of isolated islands, where the hatches are relatively safe from predators. Those spots have disappeared one by one, crowded by boaters and beachgoers. In a startling adaptation, the terns turned to flat pebbly roofs to nest, even though the heat, melting tar and drops at the edge killed young. Now those roofs are no longer built. The least tern is running out of room.

This summer, nearly two dozen pairs are nesting on the concrete supports of the Ravenel Bridge, where the young are in even more danger of falling than from the roofs. Biologists hope to fence off the spots next year.

The bottom line is wherever you find shorebirds, leave them be. Most beach rookeries are placed off-limits for the season; they and other nesting areas are roped off.

"Please stay out of the roped off areas. Under no circumstances go under the ropes, said biologist Mary-Catherine Martin, S.C. Department of Natural Resources.


The young loggerhead turtle was severely debilitated, little more than skin stretched taut over a skeleton, when it arrived at the South Carolina Aquarium earlier this month.

The rescue staff was injecting fluids and medicines when after 40 minutes, the turtle's flippers flapped frenetically and collapsed, its head arched back and the eyes rolled up - death throes.

It looked like another turtle lost. Staff began forcing air with a breathing bag and injected adrenaline into the heart, along with other treatments. But the techniques had never worked before, said Kelly Thorvalson, sea turtle rescue program manager. The desperate resuscitation went on 15 minutes - and a front flipper flicked.

"A few minutes later the eyes became less sunken and there was more flipper movement," she said. "It's the first one we ever have been able to bring back from that unresponsive state."

They named the turtle Lazarus, after the man Jesus raised from the dead in the Gospel story.

Lazarus is now recovering and might well make it back to the ocean.

To report sea turtle strandings: 800-922-5431.

Reach Bo Petersen at 937-5744, @bopete on twitter or Bo Petersen Reporting on Facebook.