Chessie, the rescued manatee, has been re-tagged after losing his GPS tracking device


Chessie, the traveling manatee, blew his own cover after seven months away when the nearly 1,500-pound escape artist unwittingly texted wildlife officials.

The wily sea cow, nicknamed for the Chesapeake Bay where he was rescued in 1994, lost a GPS tracking device in June – his fourth in 35 years of life.

But he was still wearing the attached belt, which has a limited-range acoustic transmitter.

When Chessie swam near a monitoring device in the water near Port Everglades on Jan. 25, he texted an official at the Clearwater Marine Research Institute.

“We ran there and luckily he just wanted to hang out and sleep all day and that made it easier,” said Amanda Mathieu, a research assistant at the institute who was able to re-tag Chessie with a GPS tracker. . “He’s a really cool manatee to tag because of his extensive experience and history, which is rare for wild manatees.”

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A children’s book star for her travels as far north as Rhode Island, Chessie’s travels are particularly interesting.

His June 27 disappearance, which researchers say was aided by a curious alligator biting his tracker, occurred less than two months after his release from Anchorage Park in North Palm Beach.

Previously, Chessie was recovering at SeaWorld Orlando, where he was taken after a Feb. 5 rescue in Riviera Beach by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers. Chessie was found floating on her side – a clear sign of manatee distress. He suffered from malnutrition and pneumonia.

An unusual mortality event for manatees was declared in March after hundreds of people were found dead from starvation. Most of the deaths have occurred in the Indian River lagoon, where algal blooms and pollution have contributed to large-scale kills of seagrass beds, the manatees’ main food source.

FWC launched an unprecedented starvation effort this winter by feeding manatees romaine lettuce in areas where they congregate for winter warmth, such as Florida Power & Light’s clean energy plant on the ‘Indian River Lagoon.

Staff from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Miami Seaquarium, Clearwater Marine Aquarium, SeaWorld Orlando, Save the Manatee Club, Palm Beach County Environmental Resource Management, and Florida Atlantic University released a rehabilitated manatee named Chessie at Anchorage Park Marina in North Palm Beach, Fla., Tuesday, May 11, 2021. FWC Research Associate Amber Howell, left, Tequesta, holds the GPS tracking device that will be affixed to Chessie prior to release.

Mathieu said Chessie looked healthy and had no recent evidence of being sliced ​​by boat propellers, although his multitude of past scars are a way researchers have repeatedly identified him. .

FWC Deputy Executive Director Thomas Eason said during a December announcement in Riviera Beach about the feeding effort that he was less concerned about manatees in South Florida. No feeding is planned for Lake Worth Lagoon or Port Everglades where manatees congregate in cold weather to bask in the hot water runoff from FPL plants.

“From what we’re seeing and what our researchers and managers are saying, seagrass mortality isn’t as intense here,” Eason said.

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As of February 4 this year, 164 manatees have died, according to FWC records. That’s higher than the five-year average of 105, but lower than last year’s 208 for the same period.

Of the deaths this year, only four were found in Palm Beach County. All were listed as natural deaths.

Mathieu hopes that Chessie’s 5th tracking device will remain intact long enough to give researchers an idea of ​​its movements this winter.

“This is data that is valuable in helping us understand how manatees are responding to habitat loss,” she said. “We can see where it’s going, which can give us a better justification for habitat protection.”

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