A woman said she was taking a morning stroll on the Outer Banks when she made an 800-pound discovery in the sand.
Charlena Ambrose stumbled upon a stranded manatee along the North Carolina shoreline, she wrote on Facebook. Photos and video she posted online show the nearly 10-foot-long animal in the surf around sunrise on Thursday, Dec. 2.
It turns out, Ambrose was in for a rare surprise.
Though distressed manatees had been found along inland waters, this week’s sighting marked the first time a live manatee was documented as being stranded along a beach in the state, said Karen Clark of the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission.
“Oceanside was one thing that was a surprise (for) us,” Clark, a citizen science specialist, told McClatchy News in a phone interview. “We definitely get sightings of manatees, especially in the intercoastal waterway. During the summer, sometimes we’ll have sightings of manatees along the ocean side kind of migrating up and down the coast.”
Ambrose, who didn’t immediately respond to McClatchy News’ request for comment, told OBX Today she was on a walk when she called 911 about the stranded animal. It was reported near a public beach access in the town of Kill Devil Hills, along the Outer Banks barrier islands.
“I saw what I thought was a seal,” Ambrose told WVEC. “I walked over and saw it appeared to be a manatee.”
Soon, officials descended upon the beach and consulted with local and federal agencies about the stranded sea cow. They eventually decided to rescue it from the beach and meet with a team from Florida, according to Clark.
Unfortunately, Clark said the manatee died as crews prepared to move it. Though officials don’t know what caused the animal to come ashore, they think it was skinny and may have been susceptible to colder waters.
More information could come from a necropsy, an animal autopsy scheduled at N.C. State University’s Center for Marine Sciences and Technology in Morehead City, officials said.
Of all the manatee species, West Indian manatees are found in the waters of the southeastern United States. The animals can grow to be more than 14 feet long and over 3,000 pounds, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“During the summer manatees expand their range, and on rare occasions are seen as far north as Massachusetts on the Atlantic coast and as far west as Texas on the Gulf coast,” the wildlife service said on its website. “Manatees may travel hundreds of miles during a year’s time, preferring to travel along channels and shorelines.”