CLEARWATER, Fla. (WFLA) — Chessie, the well-traveled manatee known for his travels up and down the east coast since the 90s, was spotted and re-tagged again this week, after his equipment failed to update the Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute.

Chessie, the male manatee, was rescued during the ongoing Unusual Mortality Event for manatees on the east coast of Florida.

He was rescued during last year’s cold spell after he was found emaciated and swimming sideways.

Chessie has been spotted as far north as Rhode Island, first spotted in the Chesapeake Bay in 1994, a highly unusual place for a manatee to be. The male manatee is estimated to be around 35-years-old and has a scar pattern that makes him distinguishable among other manatees.

He was released in May, north of Palm Beach. The manatee was fitted with a GPS satellite tag to monitor his movements.

According to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, the research institute lost track of Chessie in June, when the tag on him pinging his GPS location did not update, after the equipment attached to him was damaged due to an assumed alligator attack on the equipment.

“All of our manatees’ gear is made to break free. So certain components can stay in place, while others might break off. So if the tag breaks off for example, the belt will stay around his tail. The belts all contain a sonic transmitter, and they put out a specific frequency with a pattern that pertains to each individual animal,” said Amanda Mathieu, research assistant with the research institute.

Chessie’s transmitter signal was picked up in Port Everglades on Tuesday. Staff from the research institute responded quickly and got a new tag on the animal.

According to Mathieu, he was in much better condition than when he was last rescued. His location is also promising, as manatees usually move farther south to find warmer waters during the winter months.

“He’s looking pretty good and the fact that he’s this far south is promising. He’s no longer up in that UME area… We’ll see where he continues on to. If it’s further south, or where he chooses to forage now will be really important data to us,” Mathieu said.

The study of tagging manatees is not new, but extremely important during the unusually high rate of deaths the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is seeing. The Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute began the study initially to see what manatees like Chessie were doing outside of Florida.

“But once the UME began, it became really useful to have all these manatees who go to Georgia, and they’re very experienced manatees, and they come back to Florida every year to stay warm,” Mathieu said. “Having them in place in these areas where we’re experiencing these die-offs is going to show us… how they’re adapting to this massive change that they’re seeing. Or that they’re not adapting and they’re ending up in situations where they need to be rescued.” 

Thankfully, Mathieu could report Chessie was doing well. She also said the manatees they are currently tracking who spent previous winters in cold temperatures seem to be trending south when things get chilly.

“It’s just interesting to see how quickly realize this is an ideal, and then they continue on. So that’s what we’re hoping for, the best case scenario, but not all of them are as experienced as some of the older ones are,” she said.

It’s important to remember that tagged and belted manatees should not interfere with by the general public. Any disturbances to tagged or belted manatees, sick, injured or dead manatees should be reported directly to FWC by calling 888-404-3922.