Manhattanites in a Manatee State of Mind

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John Vargo, publisher of Boating on the Hudson magazine, put out an alert last week: a 10-foot-long specimen has been spotted in and around New York City on the Hudson River.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

Over the years, there's been lots of odd things found floating in New York's Hudson River - and now this. There have been a number of reports of manatee sightings. Manatees are mammals usually found in Florida. They weigh in at around a thousand pounds, and the manatee spotted in New York is thought to be pretty big, about 10 feet long. It was spotted last month in Delaware, then Maryland, then New Jersey and now in New York.

Along the way a network of bloggers, boaters and marine enthusiasts have been tracking its movements. One of them is John Vargo. He's the publisher of Boating on the Hudson magazine and the host of a radio show. And he issued an alert last week to let those who travel the river know they're sharing the waters. Earlier today I asked him about recent sightings of the sea creature.

Mr. JOHN VARGO (Boating on the Hudson): The most visual sighting was yesterday afternoon by my partner in the radio show, Boating on the Hudson, at Kingsland Point Park, which is just north of the Tappan Zee Bridge on the east shore. Randy, as he's called, was on the boat with his wife. And I had warned him that there was a manatee in the area and by sheer coincidence, the manatee came up just 10 feet away from his boat, surfaced and then went underneath his boat and up the other side. He and his wife were not the only people that saw it. There was another boat anchored alongside. And he saw it as well.

NORRIS: It must have taken him by surprised.

Mr. VARGO: They were absolutely shocked. Especially Randy's wife, Serena, who is a veterinarian's assistant and been around animals all her life, so she knows what she's looking at. When they saw this 10 foot long, four foot wide barnacle encrusted animal come to the surface, they were absolutely shocked. I mean even after Randy called me on the cell phone, his wife was still screaming in the background, I saw it, I saw it! It was right here.

NORRIS: Now what about the other sightings, where else has it been seen?

Mr. VARGO: Well, it was sighted last Sunday off of the Croten Yacht Club, by the Buck brothers, and it was seen just to the south of the Croten Yacht Club by George Sammalot(ph) of Sammalot Marine's son who was fishing over there and he thought it was a seal. It popped up next to him. I honestly think that, I guess you would call it a mammal, is here because of the fresh water coming out of the Croten River. Out at the entrance on the south side of Croten Point, there's a beautiful reef that is very, very healthy. It's full of grass, and I'm sure that's what he's feeding on is the grass.

NORRIS: Well they're herbivores and they eat up to 150 pounds of vegetation a day, as I understand, but there in and around Manhattan the waters you're describing sound wonderful. But what do you think he's eating in the Hudson there around the Chelsea Pier?

Mr. VARGO: Oh, I have no idea. There's probably some grass down there as well, but I doubt whether it's as good as the fresh grass that we have up here. That's probably why he's staying here.

NORRIS: No pictures yet?

Mr. VARGO: No pictures yet. Randy took some pictures on his cell phone, but they didn't come out. There was a glare on the water and all we got was circles. We didn't get the animal itself.

NORRIS: Are there any worries that the animal could get hurt? There is a lot of boat traffic along the Hudson.

Mr. VARGO: Absolutely. I think that luckily the manatee keeps close to shore. And we've warned everybody on the various interviews we've had today to be very careful when you're traveling along the shore and keep your eye open and please don't hit him. He's a magnificent animal.

NORRIS: What do you hope happens to the manatee?

Mr. VARGO: It's an animal. I think things will take its course. If he was left alone, I'm sure he would wander back out to sea and probably wander south. The weather is only going to stay like this for another two or three weeks and I'm sure that he'll sense he's got to return. Maybe he'll tell his buddies about the magnificent food in the Hudson River and they'll show up.

NORRIS: Mr. Vargo, it's been good to talk to you. Take care.

Mr. VARGO: Thank you very much.

NORRIS: John Vargo is the publisher of Boating on the Hudson magazine.

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