(September 18, 2015) --

On August 21, 2015, the body of Zewie, one of Alabama's most well-known manatees, was recovered from Mobile Bay. Necropsy results and subsequent veterinary assessment have identified the cause of death as probable acute watercraft strike. Zewie's death is the first warm weather mortality of an adult manatee in Alabama since the Dauphin Island Sea Lab (DISL) began its manatee research program in 2007 and is the first known mortality due to a boat strike.

“We have always been proud to say that we did not have boat-related manatee mortality in Alabama waters,” said Ruth H. Carmichael, Senior Marine Scientist at DISL and Director of DISL's Manatee Sighting Network. “This event is unfortunate because we lost an endangered species and valuable member of our local manatee population, but also because we have to face the reality that even in a large water body like Mobile Bay and with relatively few manatees, boat strikes are possible.”

Zewie was first tagged by the DISL team in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta near Mobile, Alabama in 2010. Zewie was known as a regular seasonal visitor to Alabama waters, becoming a popular and familiar sight to local residents during the past 5 years. Zewie proved to be an explorer, traveling from Crystal River, Florida as far west as Lake Ponchartrain, Louisiana during his seasonal migration along the northern Gulf of Mexico coast. Zewie was also a gregarious manatee and was often sighted socializing with other manatees.

"Always be alert for manatees while boating in Mobile Bay and all Alabama coastal waters," added Dianne Ingram with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Alabama Field Office. "Use polarized sunglasses and have a point person on watch as an observer. Manatees move slowly and are vulnerable to strikes from all motorized watercraft from personal watercraft to fishing boats or barges."

Meanwhile, the search continues for Brodie, who was originally captured and tagged in August 2012. Based on recent sightings, researchers anticipate that Brodie might be in the Choctawhatchee Bay area. There is also a chance that he could have moved northwesterly to Alabama or further east into Florida. We are asking for the public's help in locating him. The tag is white with a white antenna and red/blue reflective tape.

IF YOU SEE ANY MANATEE, PLEASE:

  • As soon as possible, call DISL's Manatees Sighting Network toll-free at 1-866-493-5803 or visit manatee.disl.org to report online.
  • Stay 100 feet from the animal
  • If boating, cut your engine and drift until you are certain the animals has moved away
  • Take pictures and get GPS location, if possible
  • Give the time, date, and location where you saw the manatee.
  • Please leave a call back number, especially if you believe an animal is in distress.

DISL's Manatee Sighting Network also distributes, free of charge, yellow manatee area caution signs to any waterfront property owners in Alabama or Mississippi who would like to display a sign to alert boaters that manatees have been sighted in the area.

“We hope that by educating the public about when and where manatees are spending time in our waters, we can avoid boat strikes and safely share waterways with manatees, said Carmichael. “This is a reminder for all of us just how important it is to boat with caution.”

For more information about DISL's Manatee Sighting Network and research program, to receive a free manatee area caution sign, or to make a donation to support marine mammal stranding response and research contact manatee@disl.org.

Photo credits:

After a manatee dies, researchers can use a special scanner to recognize some known manatees like Zewie who have personal identification tags. Credit - Carmichael 2015

Zewie in 2010. Credit - Brinkman 2010
DISL researchers are currently searching for Brodie, a manatee wearing a small tag like the one shown here. Credit - MSN 2015