Manatee in the Hudson, Dead Clams in the Narragansett
Here’s the text of an e-mail I got late yesterday afternoon:
Manatee Sighting Alert!
We had a bona fide manatee sighting in the Hudson River heading North. This particular animal has been making his way North up the coastline with sightings reported in Delaware, Maryland & NJ. The sighting was reported first at 23rd Street and then later at 125th Street (40.81826 N -73.96201 W). On both occasions it was observed logging at the surface adjacent to the bulkhead and appeared to be heading further North up the river. As you can imagine we are very anxious about hearing about our wayward visitor. I have contacted the USFWS in Jacksonville to inquire about whether they wish to attach a transmitter to him/her. The animal has been described as approx. 10 ft in length and has barnacles on its dorsal surface.
If you could both spread the word to anyone who may be in the vicinity to keep their eyes open. We are looking for photo-documentation of the animal and wish to be advised of any sightings immediately.
Rescue Program Director
Riverhead Foundation for Marine
Research and Preservation
467 E. Main Street
Riverhead, New York 11901
Obviously a manatee in the Hudson is extremely rare, if not unprecedented. Here’s what a website called Save the Manatee says about their range:
Manatees can be found in shallow, slow-moving rivers, estuaries, saltwater bays, canals and coastal areas. Manatees are a migratory species. Within the United States, West Indian manatees are concentrated in Florida in the winter, but they can be found in summer months as far west as Texas and as far north as Virginia. However, these sightings are rare. Summer sightings in Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina are common.
As for the dead clams, they’re piling up in the Providence River, at the head of Narragansett Bay. The Providence Journal went out yesterday with John Torgen, the Narragansett Baykeeper:
Torgan anchored his 18-foot skiff, then crunched across the dead clams littering the tide line. He walked along the north side of Gaspee Point, observing, "I'm smelling them, too. Briny. I can smell some recent death."
As he walked, the dead clams beneath his feet grew deeper, till they covered his shoe tops and rose above his ankles.
The likely cause is unusually high water temperatures, perhaps combined with low dissolved oxygen concentrations. Torgan worries that the conditions are a precursor to a fish die-off, like the one that hit the bay three years ago.
"The soft shell steamer really is the canary in the Bay," Torgan said, and right now it could be portending trouble ahead -- much as a clam die-off in 2003 signaled a subsequent fish kill in Greenwich Bay.
"Conditions are similar this year," to what they were in 2003, Torgan said: record rains in May and June flushed nitrogen into the Bay from sewer treatment plants, septic systems, and fertilized lawns, just as heavy mid-summer rains did in 2003. Now, as then, there is a half moon and the Bay is in its "neap tide" cycle, when tides don't flush as much water as they do during spring tides near the full and new moons.
If winds slacken as they did in 2003 then oxygen from the air won't be mixed into the Bay, causing further depletion.
"People really don't get it when it's clams [dying], for some reason," Torgan said. "When it was fish, and people could see them gasping and suffering, it really galvanized public attention."