CLEARWATER — Clearwater Beach has a new 2,000-pound resident.
Manx, a female manatee that marine biologists have spotted around Sarasota for more than 15 years, has been frequenting Clearwater Beach this summer.
Over the past few months, the manatee's quirky behavior and scarred body has spurred dozens of calls from concerned beachgoers to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. But FWC biologist Andy Garrett said Manx is currently healthy.
White boat propeller scars crisscross Manx's back. One side of her tail is missing, leaving behind a crescent moon-shaped fin.
But these scars are healed, Garrett said. If anything, they help scientists recognize Manx.
"The nice thing about her scars is they're so obvious in photos that it's easy to track her movements," he said.
The first time biologists sighted Manx was in 1993, said Carli Segelson, FWC's media relations coordinator. Back then, her tail and body were scarred and mutilated as they are today.
Since then, the manatee has mainly been seen around Sarasota and Bradenton. In April, Garrett saw her at Port Manatee in southern Tampa Bay — the farthest north Manx had been documented at the time.
Now, she swims around the Clearwater Marine Aquarium and the nearby Intracoastal Waterway, Garrett said. He added that manatees aren't unusual to this area.
Concerned Manx-sighters have called the FWC noting not only her appearance but also her odd behavior. Manx spends a lot of time at the surface of the water and feeds with her back end higher than her front, which appears to be a buoyancy problem.
Garrett said while this might be a problem for other manatees, marine biologists have come to accept the behavior as normal for Manx.
"This animal, we've followed her for a long time," he said. "She breathes in a normal way. We see her feed and interact with other manatees, which is normal."
Although Manx sightings have resulted in numerous calls over a healthy manatee, Garrett is hesitant to discourage people from reporting possible injured manatees.
"We don't want to blow off any calls about Manx because if she does get hit by a boat, we don't want to disregard the calls," he said.
He said anyone who thinks a manatee may be hurt or dead should call the FWC wildlife alert line toll-free at 1 (888) 404-3922.
Although Manx has been well-known to the FWC and Manatee County scientists for many years, Garrett said the public is finally getting a chance to know the manatee. But he doesn't know if Manx is here to stay.
"Who knows what she'll do? She might hang here for the summer and head back down."
Katie Park can be reached at (727) 445-4154 or firstname.lastname@example.org.