ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — A rescue attempt is being planned for Ilya, a Florida manatee stuck near an oil refinery in New Jersey where plunging temperatures and a lack of food are endangering his life.
The gentle sea cow has been known to marine scientists for 10 years as he made his way up and down the East Coast. He has recently been spotted in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Maryland.
But on Friday he was huddling near an outfall pipe at an oil refinery in Linden, the only place he could find warm water.
A nor'easter pummeling New Jersey with wind and rain Friday was making things even more dangerous for Ilya, who needs to be in water with temperatures of 68 degrees or warmer. The water where he is now is between 60 and 64 degrees.
Charles Underwood, a spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said Iyla may not be able to survive long in such temperatures.
"Above 68, they're OK. Below that, they become susceptible to hypothermia. That's our concern," he said.
The Marine Mammal Stranding Center, a rescue group located in Brigantine, just outside Atlantic City, received permission from federal wildlife officials to attempt a rescue this weekend.
Bob Schoelkopf, the center's co-director, said foul weather on Friday made an attempt impossible. They may try Saturday or Sunday if the weather improves.
The rescue would involve loading Ilya aboard a special boat and taking him to their facility, where he could be placed in a heated holding tank for a few days to warm up.
After that, Ilya could be flown to Florida, possibly aboard a military transport plane.
The manatee is in a small tributary of the Arthur Kill, a narrow waterway separating New Jersey and Staten Island, N.Y.
Staffers with the group were at the refinery site Friday, taking photos of Ilya, who appeared to be in good shape.
"He looks fairly robust, from what we can see," Schoelkopf said.
For now, authorities are guarding the animal, which is already in a section of the fenced-off and heavily guarded refinery that is inaccessible to the public.
"Some of them were going to get lettuce for him, to try to keep him there until the storm passes," Underwood said.