VIDEO: First documented live stranded manatee in N.C. has died

A manatee was found stranded on the beach at the Ocean Bay Boulevard access off Kill Devil Hills, N.C. on Dec. 2, 2021. [photo courtesy Charlena Ambrose]

A manatee found stranded on the beach Thursday morning at the Ocean Bay Boulevard access off Kill Devil Hills has died.

The nearly 10-foot-long female was still alive, making it the first documented live stranding on the North Carolina coast, when it was found by a local woman walking the beach around sunrise.

“I notified ocean marine rescue through 911 and they were getting first responders here…as quick as they can,” said Charlena Ambrose, who found the manatee in the surf.

A manatee was found stranded on the beach at the Ocean Bay Boulevard access off Kill Devil Hills, N.C. on Dec. 2, 2021. [photo courtesy Charlena Ambrose]
Karen Clark, education director at the N.C. Wildlife Commission’s Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education, said volunteers and staff with the OBX Marine Mammal Stranding Network and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service responded and began consulting with partner agencies.

Arrangements were quickly made for a box truck to transport the sea cow for possible treatment at a facility in Florida, Clark said.

The Best Western Ocean Reef near where the manatee washed ashore even donated a mattress.

A team from the Florida facility was already on the road to meet them halfway, according to Clark.

A nearly 10-foot-long manatee that washed ashore off Kill Devil Hills was the first documented live stranding of the marine mammal in North Carolina. [photo courtesy Karen Clark]
“It likely had washed up several hours earlier,” Clark said. “As we began to move her, she went into distress and died.”

Clark said there were no visible signs of trauma, and all scars on the body had been healed for quite some time, but the manatee appeared to have been malnurished.

“She was very thin, and had what we call a ‘peanut head’, because she was missing the usual fat stores we see around the neck area,” Clark said.

The remains will be taken to N.C. State University’s lab in Morehead City for a necropsy.

Manatees are well documented by scientists using photos and video when they winter in Florida.

Clark said they will likely be able to identify the manatee using the shape of its tail and scars.

Usually associated with Florida and its warmer waters, sightings have become a more regular occurrence locally in the last few years, with the creatures swimming as far north as coastal Virginia during summer migration season, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Clark said there had been no recent sightings around the Outer Banks, but a group of manatees had been spotted a few weeks ago in the Intracoastal Waterway near Morehead City.

The manatee is a protected marine mammal and any sightings should be reported to the USFWS, the agency says. In 2019, there were several sightings of manatees along the Outer Banks and into Virginia Beach through late fall, with one manatee death in Virginia Beach likely due to cold-water stress.

Call to report all manatee sightings, including any live, distressed and dead manatees:

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Raleigh Ecological Services Field Office
Call: 919-856-4520

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Division of Law Enforcement – North Carolina
Call: 919-856-4786, extension 34

North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission
Call: 800-662-7137

For more information about manatees in North Carolina, click here.

To report marine mammal stranding in Currituck, Dare, and Hyde counties, please call:
OBX Stranding Response: 252-455-9654

If you are located within Cape Hatteras National Seashore, you may also call:
CAHA Stranding Response: 252-216-6892

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Sam Walker is news director for OBXToday.com, Beach 104, 99.1 The Sound, Big 94.5 WCMS and Z 92.3. Reach him at swalker3@jammediallc.com