(July 01, 2021) --

Manatee sighted near Dog River, Alabama during June 2021. Courtesy: DISL/MSN contributors Ana and Tim Lewis

The 4th of July holiday weekend means many local residents and visitors will take to the water.  The Dauphin Island Sea Lab’s Manatee Sighting Network (DISL/MSN) asks boaters to keep a lookout for manatees and report sightings to assist local researchers.

“July is historically a busy month for manatee sightings in Alabama, Mississippi, and other nearby waters in the northern Gulf of Mexico,” says Elizabeth Hieb, who manages the DISL/MSN.  “We have already received more than 100 manatee sighting reports in the northern Gulf so far this season, and groups of up to eight manatees have been spotted in Alabama.”

Founded in 2007, DISL/MSN is the first formal manatee sighting network in the United States that is dedicated to manatee research, education, and outreach in the region.  Part of DISL/MSN’s research focuses on defining where and when manatees reside in Alabama, Mississippi, and surrounding waters.  DISL/MSN relies heavily on citizen science to learn more about manatees through publicly reported sightings.

“Our primary goal this time of year is to remind people that manatees are here and that the sighting network is active.  We really depend on the public to report every sighting, any time, as soon as possible,” states DISL Senior Marine Scientist and DISL/MSN Director Dr. Ruth H. Carmichael.

What you can do to assist DISL/MSN’s research and help protect manatees in the northern Gulf:

  • Report any and all manatee sightings 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by phone (1-866-493-5803), email (manatee@disl.org), or online sighting form (manatee.disl.org). 
  • Go slow when boating in manatee habitat, which typically includes areas with shallow water and abundant aquatic vegetation.  Boat strikes are a leading cause of manatee deaths.
  • Wear polarized sunglasses to help see manatee more easily.  Look for snouts at the water surface or “footprints” left by manatees traveling underwater.
  • Safely dispose of fishing line and other debris that could potentially entangle manatees.
  • Give manatees space and never swim with, chase, touch, feed, or give water to manatees.  Manatees are federally protected, and any activity that changes their natural behavior is illegal and potentially harmful.