Duane is in town and he's wired for sound.
A manatee named for blues musician Duane Allman is cruising the water around Charleston with a satellite transmitter attached, one of about a half-dozen manatees who have been sighted so far after moving up from Florida.
The white buoy trailing on the surface behind Duane holds a tracking antenna. It's designed to break free if snagged, so don't pull on it. That violates federal law.
The tracking is part of a multi-state, multi-agency effort to pinpoint exactly when and how the animals migrate, what habitats they favor when they move north.
"What are the trigger points?" said Monica Ross, a research scientist for the Sea To Shore Alliance, which is working the project with university, state and federal agencies in the Southeast region. "We're trying to get a better understanding of what the manatee are doing outside Florida."
The name Duane Allman was picked because researchers wanted the name of a regional musician.
As for all manatees, boaters need to be careful in shallower water. Reports have been coming in of sightings on the Intracoastal Waterway, Shem Creek in Mount Pleasant and waterways near Savannah National Wildlife Refuge below Beaufort, said Jennifer Koches, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Charleston.
Manatees are bulbous, seal-like creatures. Their whiskery, puppy-like faces and lolling, seemingly serene behavior often delights onlookers. The legend is their sighting by ocean-wearied seamen led to the myth of mermaids, but evidently not because sailors got too close. Their rank odor has been compared to something akin to oyster shells left in the sun for three days after a roast.
About 50 or so are thought to migrate from Florida to the Lowcountry each summer, about 1 percent of the population. Sightings in South Carolina have been increasing, but wildlife experts can’t be sure if the manatees themselves are increasing or people are becoming more aware and reporting them.
Some experts think the numbers here are increasing as threats in Florida multiply. Nobody really knows.
Boaters are urged to steer clear and keep watch for the sea cows, as well as for sea turtles and other marine creatures. Strikes are a leading cause of death for the threatened species. The poky mammals need to surface to breathe, and they roam shallow tidal waters in search of food. Those are the same waters crowded by boats during the summer.
Use common sense. Look for large swirls or signs of movement in the water as you would watch for debris when boating. Slow down in shallows or while approaching docks or marinas. The shallower the water, the more likely a manatee is there.
Don’t lure or feed. Naturally curious, the animals tend to turn up near docks, particularly where a spigot runs freshwater they like to drink. Spigots have been left running deliberately and the animals fed from docks, even though both are federal violations.
To report sightings, go to www.dnr.sc.gov/manatee. To report an injured animal call 1-800-922-5431.
One of the concerns is that migrating manatee can get trapped north by cooling waters if they loiter in pockets of warmer water, such as plant discharges. They can't survive in temperatures below 68 degrees. Several rescues have taken place near Charleston in recent winters.
Manatee can reach a half-ton and up to 14 feet long. They are considered distantly related to elephants and aardvarks. Native to Southeast coastal waters, they were once thought near extinction, but now seem to be recovering despite threats.