Florida residents shocked to discover a manatee in a man-made lake as biologists scramble to figure out how it got there

South Florida residents were shocked to see a manatee swimming in a man-made lake last week, leaving biologists wondering how the animal ended up so far from home.

A resident captured video last week of the animal swimming in a lake west of Fort Lauderdale, about 10 miles (16 kilometers) from the Atlantic Ocean where the species normally lives.

Biologists suspect the manatee left the coast through underground tunnels to reach Pembroke Pines Lake in search of food and warm, shallow water.

Manatees have struggled to find food in recent years. Because they can survive in fresh, brackish, and salt water, they can travel hundreds of miles from home to find food.

Manatees, also known as sea cows, can migrate hundreds of miles off the Florida coast in search of food

Manatees have struggled to find food in recent years and because they can survive in fresh, brackish and salt water, they can travel hundreds of miles from their home to find food

Manatees have struggled to find food in recent years and because they can survive in fresh, brackish and salt water, they can travel hundreds of miles from their home to find food

Manatees, also known as sea cows, can grow up to 13 feet long and weigh more than 3,000 pounds. They can enter bodies of water such as lakes and ponds through storm drains and nearby canals.

Although these corridors don’t appear on a map, Amber Howell, a biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said Business insider Large pipes, called culverts, run under the roads.

“The culverts in this area are large enough for a manatee to swim through safely,” she said.

Normally they would have to walk through a floodgate, but that is normally open during Florida’s rainy season, which lasts from May through October.

“I grew up with manatees,” said Bill Barnett, a Pembroke Pines resident who saw the animal WPLG Local 10and added, “This is the first one we’ve seen on the lake. I’ve been here about 15 years.”

Another resident, Myriam Schenk, told the newspaper that she had also seen the manatee.

“I saw the face and thought, ‘What is this?’ I started making a video and said, ‘This is a manatee!’”

According to Local 10, there are fish and turtles in the lake, but the manatee is not present.

A resident captured video last week of the manatee swimming in Pembroke Pines Lake, about 10 miles from the Atlantic Ocean where the species normally resides

A resident captured video last week of the manatee swimming in Pembroke Pines Lake, about 10 miles from the Atlantic Ocean where the species normally resides

The manatee, the official freshwater mammal of the state of Florida, is considered an endangered species and is facing extinction due to declining food supplies.

The decline is partly due to algal blooms that kill seagrass, which is the manatee’s main food source, along with other vegetation such as underwater and floating plants.

Manatees spend an average of eight hours a day feeding on marine plants and can eat four to nine percent of their body weight daily.

Algal blooms, also known as harmful algal blooms (HAB), in the Atlantic Ocean include phytoplankton that can cloud the water and reduce the amount of sunlight that reaches seagrass, damaging the vegetation and making it harder for it to regrow.

Some HABs are also toxic to manatees if they eat them, such as the microalgae Karenia brevis, which is common in Florida and caused the deaths of approximately 123 manatees between November 2022 and June 2023.

The manatee—Florida's official state freshwater mammal—is classified as an endangered species, facing extinction due to reduced food supplies. The decline is partly due to algae blooms that kill seagrass, which serves as the manatee's primary food source, along with other vegetation such as submerged and floating plants.

The manatee—Florida’s official state freshwater mammal—is classified as an endangered species, facing extinction due to reduced food supplies. The decline is partly due to algae blooms that kill seagrass, which serves as the manatee’s primary food source, along with other vegetation such as submerged and floating plants.

Outside of the winter months, the animals often migrate through Florida’s waterways in search of food, mates, and shallow resting areas, sometimes traveling dozens of miles to reach a new area.

Earlier this year, another manatee traveled more than 100 miles from the ocean to reach Lake Apopka in Oakland, Florida.

However, this is not the first time the manatee has been spotted in Pembroke Pines Lake, along with another reported by the local police in 2021.

Pembroke Pines police posted a video of the manatee at the time, asking residents and visitors to “respect our native wildlife.”

“Under Florida law, it is illegal to feed, harass, harm, chase, or annoy a manatee. Enjoy him/her from a distance.”

The state wildlife agency eventually had to rescue the animal because it was too thin and swimming erratically, but biologists told Local 10 that the lake’s newest resident appears to be healthy and has access to plenty of food.

“There is a lot of vegetation along the shoreline in this area that they will utilize,” Howell told BI, adding that there is “absolutely no concern” for the welfare of this manatee.

Florida residents who wish to report a manatee in distress can call the Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-3922.