GLOUCESTER, Va. (WVEC) -- The Virginia Aquarium's Stranding Response Program is asking for help in locating the manatee after a recent spotting in the York River.
"With the approaching winter, falling water temperatures may pose a real danger to a manatee," says Matt Klepeisz with the Virginia Aquarium.
The Aquarium's Stranding Response Program is coordinating with federal and private partners to evaluate the condition of any manatees that may be remaining in the area.
Corey Holbert is a research technician at William & Mary's Virginia Institute of Marine Science in Gloucester Point. He was outside last Wednesday when he glanced down in the canal and saw a large animal.
It came back up moments later and that's when Holbert realized he was staring at a manatee.
“I was shocked because I’ve never seen a manatee here before,” Holbert says. “It was very unusual.”
Holbert says the reason why it's so unusual seeing a manatee in Virginia is because of the temperature of the water.
VIMS researchers say the coldest temperature manatees can live or survive in is 68 degrees. The water temperature in the York River Wednesday was 65 degrees. Manatees can experience hypothermia in waters below 60 degrees.
“The water here is typically too cold for them, certainly over the winter months, that's why they're found further south,” Holbert says.
Manatees were removed from the federal endangered species list in 2016. They are now listed as threatened. There are approximately 6300 manatees believed to be in US waters.
There have been 12 manatee sightings in the Chesapeake Bay since 1994. Two have died.
A manatee nicknamed "Chessie" was captured near the Bay Bridge in 1994 and flown back to Florida by the US Coast Guard. Chessie has returned to the bay region at least twice since then. The latest appearance was in St. Leonard creek in Calvert County in 2011.
The animals are attracted by underwater grasses which are their preferred food.
The record for wayward manatees was set in September 2016 when one was captured at Falmouth Bay in Cape Cod. Like Chessie, that manatee was also rescued and flown by the Coast Guard back to Florida because scientists believed it would not have survived cooling waters during the return journey.
Here's how the public can help: if you see a manatee in any of the Hampton Roads waterways, call the 24-hour Stranding Response hotline at (757) 385-7575.
The Stranding Team will need an exact location and photos/video of the animal. Officials are also asking you to maintain a safe distance from any manatee to prevent disturbance or potential injury.
WUSA 9 contributed to this report