Florida residents were shocked to see a manatee swimming in their human-made lake. A biologist thinks she knows how it got there.

  • A manatee was spotted in an artificial lake in South Florida.

  • Manatees can travel through canals and drains, especially after stormy weather.

  • Marine biologists think the manatee should have enough food to survive in the lake.

South Florida residents recently noticed an unusual new neighbor in their artificial lake: a manatee.

Last week, a resident of the Cedarwoods neighborhood in Pembroke Pines took video footage of the marine mammal swimming around, the news station WPLG Local 10 reported. A couple also spotted the manatee in late June, and they said it had a baby with it.

"This is the first one we've seen on the lake," Bill Barnett, one of the residents who filmed the sea cow, told the news station.

How did the manatee reach an inland lake?

The artificial lake is about 10 miles from the Atlantic Ocean.

Looking at a map, it may seem as if the manatee wouldn't have a good route from the coast to the lake, but there are underground passageways that maps don't show.

Amber Howell, a biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, told Business Insider there are large pipes called culverts under the roads.

"The culverts in this area are big enough for manatee to safely swim through," she said. There's a floodgate in the area that it would've had to navigate, but it's often open during the state's rainy season.

That's probably how this manatee ended up in its current locale.

Manatees can travel hundreds of miles in search of food

A manatee in water with its head emerging.
A manatee at an inactive power plant in Riviera Beach, Florida.Thomson Reuters

Florida manatees, a sub-species of the West Indian manatee, have faced difficulty finding food in the past several years, with hundreds dying annually. Algae blooms that kill seagrass, a huge source of food for the manatees, are partly to blame.

Though they're marine mammals, manatees can survive in fresh, brackish, and salty water. And they can roam quite far in search of food and warm water.

Some Florida manatees travel through the ocean around the US, from Texas to as far north as Delaware. But the mammals also spend a lot of time in freshwater rivers, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Since they prefer shallow water, they'll often head inland, like this manatee. Finding food in the lake shouldn't be too difficult, either.

"In this area, there is a lot of shoreline vegetation, which they'll take advantage of," Howell said.

Manatees have been seen in this area for the past few years, so the big visitor isn't unique. Howell said biologists had "absolutely no concern" for this particular animal.

How to help your neighborhood manatee

Howell said people could sometimes be a little overzealous in trying to help manatees. They may see a manatee in shallow water and try to move it deeper.

But sometimes, it's an exhausted female who's taking a rest from a nearby mating herd. "It's the worst-case scenario to push her back into that group," Howell said.

She said that if Florida residents are concerned about a manatee who seems in distress, they can call the Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-3922.

Read the original article on Business Insider