(August 28, 2015) --

On Friday 21 August, researchers at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab's Manatee Sighting Network received an unusual report—a summer manatee stranding. The carcass of a large male manatee washed ashore in Mobile Bay, just north of Fowl River. The animal was well known to DISL researchers as a social animal who has been documented since 2009 to seasonally visit Mobile Bay from Crystal River, Florida.

Researchers first encountered the manatee, who was known as TMA003 (‘Zewie'), in 2009 when he was captured and tagged as part of DISL's ongoing research to track manatee movements and migration patterns in Alabama and surrounding waters. Zewie had been reported in Dog River and parts of the Mobile-Tensaw Delta a few days before he was found dead in Mobile Bay.

Zewie was at least 27 years old, having been first documented as a calf in Crystal River, Florida in 1987. He was often seen with other manatees, including in mating groups in Alabama, and was known to travel as far as Lake Pontchartrain, Louisiana during his seasonal migrations.

“Zewie was very well known by local residents, who would regularly call to report seeing him in their rivers and canals in summer,” said Dr. Ruth H. Carmichael, who operates DISL's Manatee Sighting Network. “It is always unfortunate to lose an endangered species, and this manatee was one of only a few renowned in our area, which makes him particularly special to our program and community.”

DISL researchers performed a necropsy to help determine cause of death and results are pending; US Fish and Wildlife Service biologists and DISL volunteers assisted. “Notable to us is the timing of when this animal died, it is the first documented summer season adult manatee mortality in Alabama,” said Dianne Ingram, US Fish and Wildlife Service biologist. “Mortality of manatees in Alabama is typically associated with cold stress in the winter.”

Manatees are endangered species protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act. There are thought to be only 6,000 manatees in U.S. waters, a small number of which migrate into the northern Gulf of Mexico and visit Alabama, typically between mid-May and mid-November each year. The manatee is the state of Alabama's official marine mammal and an important part of our state's natural heritage.

If you are interested in volunteering to be a stranding or sighting network responder, making a contribution to this important research, or would like more information, a boat decal or dock sign with manatee reporting information, please contact DISL's Manatee Sighting Network at 1-866-493-5803 or manatee@disl.org.