A wayward manatee that stirred up Manteo for the past month hasn't been seen in several days, and some fear the endangered sea creature might have died.
A dead manatee reportedly was seen in the Alligator River over the weekend, said Carl Jordan, Manteo's dock master. He said the water temperature had gotten down to 55 degrees – too cold for manatees, which are usually found in Florida this time of year.
“It was a sad ending to a big story,” Jordan said.
Or was it?
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A body has not been found. And Heather Bates White, an aquarist with the N.C. Aquarium on Roanoke Island, said she has not heard that the manatee has been found dead.
The Marine Mammal Stranding Network has issued public service announcements on radio stations asking residents who see the manatee to call the network.
“If anyone spotted this animal, they are supposed to call us immediately,” said White, a volunteer with the stranding network. “And no one has responded to us.”
The manatee – known as “Mary” to residents – was last spotted Nov. 2, swimming in the sound near downtown Manteo, White said. On Nov. 4, she added, a storm rolled in, and the manatee hasn't been seen since.
It's rare for a manatee to venture this far north. One was reported in Old Nags Head Cove last summer, Jordan said.
Then there was Chessie the manatee, who was captured in Chesapeake Bay more than a decade ago and was later spotted off the coast of North Carolina.
Manatees shouldn't be able to survive in water cooler than 68 degrees, according to Katie Tripp, director of science and conservation with the Save the Manatee Club, based in Maitland, Fla. If the water is colder, the mammals experience cold stress syndrome, which can be fatal, Tripp said.
The Manteo manatee's story began a month ago, when a couple from Florida saw a creature swimming near the Marshes Light condos in downtown Manteo.
They claimed it was an alligator, said Jordan, who docks boats and collects slip rent. A week later, another man said he saw an alligator in the sound by downtown.
Jordan, who said he had never heard of an alligator in the area, kept a lookout.
On Nov. 2, Willie and April Crank saw the creature when they crossed the Cora Mae Basnight Bridge, which connects the Manteo waterfront to Roanoke Island Festival Park.
They pulled out their recorder and caught it on tape.
It was a manatee, not a gator.
Manatees can be as long as 15 feet and weigh as much as 1,800 pounds. The mammal's large body and flipper tail can be seen on the video, which the Cranks posted on YouTube.
Manteo locals started referring to their manatee as Mary, based on the book “Mary Manatee,” which was written by Suzanne Tate and illustrated by James Melvin. Both live on the Outer Banks.
Officials from Sea World in Florida called Jordan, saying they would send a rescue team to save Mary. He told them he'd call when the manatee was spotted again.
But Jordan hasn't made the call. On Sunday, he heard that a manatee was floating dead in the Alligator River.
“It's rough,” Jordan said. “I was just hoping it would get out of here and make it.”