Is Mary the manatee dead or alive?
Could there be more than one manatee that has drifted too far north into the too-cold waters of North Carolina?
And if there really is a deceased manatee out there, where's the body?
The truth surrounding recent Tar Heel manatee sightings became as elusive as the Loch Ness monster this week.
Nicole Adimey, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Jacksonville, Fla., says reports of a dead manatee in the Alligator River near Manteo are incorrect. No carcass has been found there, she said.
There are separate reports of a manatee body washing up east of Wilmington.
Bill McLellan, a biologist who heads up UNC Wilmington's Marine Mammal Stranding Network, says he saw a photo of the dead manatee taken Sunday in Masonboro Inlet near Wilmington. He received e-mail from the man who found it, and the man described where it was.
But that carcass has since disappeared, said McLellan, who is called on to retrieve dead sea mammals.
McLellan said he doesn't know whether the dead manatee he saw in the photo is “Mary,” the manatee that excited Manteo since first showing up about a month ago. Mary, named after a local author's book and documented on YouTube, was last seen alive Nov. 2, swimming in the sound near downtown Manteo.
Meanwhile, Adimey said there have been two other manatee sightings off the N.C. coast in the past two weeks, including one around Beaufort.
The marine mammals normally live in the warm waters of Florida and the Caribbean. Only occasionally do they show up in North Carolina, where the water is cooler, Adimey said.
Though manatees are resilient, they cannot tolerate long-term exposure to cold waters.
Manatees have been discovered even farther north, but their stories didn't end well. A recent manatee carcass was found in Massachusetts. Another manatee that was found alive off Pennsylvania died from cold exposure as wildlife officials were transporting it back to Florida.