Manatees are on the move

Manatees have been spotted in local waters recently.

MOUNT PLEASANT -- When Bill Lee spotted a large, gray mass with whiskers, a rounded snout, two flippers and a paddle-shaped tail off his Hobcaw Creek dock, he knew it was a manatee.

Lee, a physician who has lived on the creek for 15 years, said manatees have been coming to the creek for the past five years or so. They migrate here during the summer from Florida.

Could Chessie, the large manatee who swam up the East Coast in 1995, be among those spotted in the creek?

According to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service public affairs specialist Jennifer Kochef, Chessie was last documented in 2001 and has not been spotted since.

Chessie is said to have a distinctive long, gray scar on his back with several small white spots within the scar, which enables him to be easily identified.

Manatees often are struck by boats and cut by the propellers when they come up to the surface for air. They move about 3 to 5 mph, so they are not able to move quickly out of harm's way.

Boaters are cautioned to slow down and turn off their propellers if they spot one of these threatened creatures. Many manatees develop distinctive scars after being cut by propellers.

"Boats go so fast now it's impossible to see them quick enough. The only way to miss them is to slow down," Lee said.

Protecting manatees

The Department of Natural Resources offers these tips to help residents protect manatees:

--Look around for manatees before cranking your boat's motor.

--Use caution when navigating in shallow water and along the edge of a marsh. Manatees cannot dive away from boats in these areas.

--Heed "slow speed," "no wake" and manatee warning signs, especially around docks.

--Wear polarized sunglasses to reduce glare, making it easier to spot manatees below the surface.

--Watch for large swirls in the water called footprints that may be caused by manatees diving away from the boat.

--Dock owners should never feed manatees or give them fresh water. This could teach the animals to approach docks, putting them at greater risk of a boat strike, and it is illegal.

--Never pursue, harass or play with manatees. It is bad for the manatees and is illegal.

--If you see an injured manatee, contact the Charleston office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at 727-4707.