Past Bay visitor "Chessie" is scanned for a microchip in Florida. Photo: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

“Chessie” the Manatee Resurfaces after Apparent Gator Attack

By Jeremy Cox, Bay Journal News Service

Chessie, the manatee that gained fame for making sporadic visits to the Chesapeake Bay over three decades, has made yet another reappearance, easing fears that a possible alligator attack last summer had done him in.

When his satellite tag stopped transmitting last June in waters near Jacksonville, FL, scientists suspected that an alligator or a boat had damaged it. For more than six months, Chessie’s whereabouts were unknown.

But on Tuesday, Jan. 25, an underwater microphone deployed by the Clearwater Marine Aquarium detected a separate—and apparently still-operative—tracking device attached to the 1,500-pound mammal. The sonic transmitter showed that Chessie was basking in the warm discharge from a power plant in Fort Lauderdale, more than 300 miles south of his last known location.

The aquarium’s staff hurried to the canal. They located the manatee and fastened a fresh satellite tag to him, according to the nonprofit’s press release. The tag allows researchers and the public to track Chessie’s movements remotely.

Scientists estimate the manatee to be at least 35 years old. His lifetime has been marked by a dramatic series of appearances and disappearances, beginning with his sighting in the Chesapeake Bay in 1994. That was the first time a manatee had been spotted in Maryland waters. He bypassed the Bay during his northward trek the following year but ventured as far north as Rhode Island, adding another first to his ledger.

He popped up in the Bay again in 2001 and 2011. But then he was off the grid until he was recovered in February 2021, emaciated and suffering from pneumonia. Unlike hundreds of Florida manatees that have died of starvation amid a recent mass die-off of seagrass, Chessie survived.

After rehabilitating at SeaWorld Orlando, he was released last May. He then swam up the coast to Jacksonville, mimicking earlier northward journeys.