Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Ship Hit Kills 4 Manatees in River; Necropsies Reveal a Lot of Trauma, Probably Caused by a Large Vessel

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Ship Hit Kills 4 Manatees in River; Necropsies Reveal a Lot of Trauma, Probably Caused by a Large Vessel

Article excerpt

Byline: MARY LANDERS

SAVANNAH, Ga. - An apparent ship strike killed four endangered manatees in the Savannah River last week.

Wildlife officials, responding to initial reports of dead manatees, found two carcasses in the Savannah downtown riverfront area Friday. A third carcass was recovered about a mile downstream later that day. The fourth was discovered on a piling of the Talmadge Bridge on Monday.

As they try to piece together the likely accidental tragedy, wildlife biologists from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources are calling on anyone who might have seen a group of manatees in the river last week to report the sighting.

Necropsies, or animal autopsies, of the first three carcasses revealed gashes likely made by the propeller of a ship larger than 65 feet long.

One animal had been sliced in half, with only its top half recovered.

"I've done dolphins' necropsies before and I've seen broken bones and gashes, but I've not seen that amount of trauma," said Tara Cox, assistant professor of marine sciences at Savannah State University, who assisted in the necropsies. "You can only imagine it had to be a fairly large prop."

Clay George, a wildlife biologist with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, led the animal examinations.

"It was something like a tug or a large military vessel or a container ship or a tanker," he said. "We're almost certain it was not a small recreational boat."

The unusually high number of animals involved led George to speculate the manatees were part of a breeding herd - a female in heat being pursued by up to a dozen or more males.

"They were presumably cavorting in the middle of the channel, not paying attention, and they were hit by some vessel," he said.

One of the manatees had mud in its trachea, which may indicate the animals were resting on the river bottom when a ship swept over the top of them. Although they are air-breathing mammals, manatees can remain underwater for up to 30 minutes. …

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