MEMPHIS, Tenn. – A misdirected manatee apparently swam 700 miles up the Mississippi River to a chilly harbor near Memphis' downtown riverfront, prompting rescue plans by wildlife officials.
The docile, endangered marine mammal, about 8 feet long and 1,000 pounds, is far north of its natural range along the southeastern U.S. coast.
Biologists have no idea how it got there and worry its health is failing because the species' digestive systems shut down in cooler water.
• Click here to visit FOXNews.com's Natural Science Center.
"We're working on a rescue plan and hope to have the animal rescued within the next 48 hours," Nicole Adiemy, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said Wednesday. "Then we'll put it on a truck and haul it to Florida."
James Jackson alerted authorities to the manatee on Monday, a day after he and another fisherman spotted it in a shallow waterway near downtown. At first the two disagreed over whether it was a baby hippo or an alligator.
Adiemy said the plan was to catch the animal in a net, perhaps on Thursday, and take it to SeaWorld Adventure Park in Orlando, Fla., with help from park specialists.
Manatees normally are moving into Florida rivers this time of year, but not the Mississippi, said Pat Rose, executive director of the Save the Manatee Club in Maitland, Fla.
The animals should be in water above 68 degrees, Rose said. Water temperature where the animal has been spotted ranged Tuesday from the low- to mid-60s.
Manatees are found mostly along the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Coast, from Alabama to South Carolina. Sometimes they stray farther north; this summer one made it as far as Manhattan.