(August 26, 2022) --

Despite fitful weather, the Dauphin Island Sea Lab (DISL) and collaborators from Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute, SeaWorld Orlando, and Mote Marine Lab successfully led the capture and health assessment of three manatees in Alabama waters early this week. The captured manatees were given complete health assessments and fitted with floating satellite tracking tags to locate them and track their movements in Alabama waters and migration routes when they leave the area. 

The work is part of a collaborative research study on the manatee population and movement ecology, funded by the Alabama Center of Excellence under the RESTORE Act. Data from the satellite tags will be used to better understand manatee habitat use now and model predicted future manatee distributions and habitat use in the northern Gulf of Mexico under changing climate conditions. 

The study includes collaboration with Dr. Nicole Phillips from the University of Southern Mississippi to test local waters for the presence of manatee DNA that may be shed in feces or skin and remain in the water as a biological footprint to aid future monitoring. 

“We are fortunate to have expert collaborators and local partners who are invested in the success of our research, from assessing basic health to the ongoing study of when and where manatees spend time and what resources they use on the Gulf coast”, said Ruth H. Carmichael, Senior Marine Scientist at DISL and Primary Investigator on the research project. “This work will make a significant contribution to the science and conservation of manatees, which are the official state marine mammal of Alabama, locally endangered, and globally threatened.” 

The capture event also provided a rare live-animal approach and handling experience to research and veterinary collaborators throughout the region to help build capacity for future research and stranding response. Participants in the event included colleagues from the University of South Alabama, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, University of Southern Mississippi, Mississippi Aquarium, Mississippi State University, Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, Audubon Nature Institute, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists. 

"Species conservation is always a team effort”, added Jenna King, a Biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service field office in Daphne, Alabama, “and these capture events were the perfect example of that: partners working together to research the manatee movement and habitat usage in Alabama and the Gulf Coast, which is vital information for the conservation of the species as a whole." 

All three of the captured manatees were adult males, ranging in size from 9 to nearly 11 feet. One animal was identified as a previously known male manatee named “Clog” that was rescued in 2007 after naturally stranding on a low tide near Tampa, Florida. All three animals also had numerous scars from previous boat propeller injuries. During the 3-day field study, researchers observed as many as 9 manatees in the southern reaches of the Mobile-Tensaw Delta system and Dog River, including a mother and calf pair. 

This is the 7th manatee capture event in Alabama, with a total of 14 unique manatees tagged by the DISL team since 2009. Data from tagging efforts have helped prove that manatees are regular at least seasonal visitors to Alabama waters and that some of the same animals return to Alabama year after year, with animals engaging in a wide range of normal life activities such as feeding, breeding, and giving birth in local waters. Earlier this summer DISL researchers helped to tag a manatee that was released in Florida after stranding in Texas. DISL continues to monitor that animal, known as TexasTeeMiguel, as part of their ongoing study of manatees that migrate to the northern Gulf of Mexico. 

In addition to its manatee telemetry research, The Marine Mammal Research Program at DISL also includes the operation of DISL’s Manatee Sighting Network (DISL/MSN). As of 2022, DISL/MSN has cataloged more than 6,000 sighting reports from throughout the southeastern U.S. Data obtained from the public are vital to better understand the distribution of manatees throughout their range and are a valuable complement to the targeted capture and tagging portion of the research. The DISL’s Marine Mammal Research Program includes a collaborative study on how manatees and other marine mammals use habitat and food resources in Alabama and nearby waters, their movement and migration patterns, and causes of death. 

If you are interested in making a contribution to support 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 on our Facebook page [https://www.facebook.com/mobilemanatees] and report sightings by calling 1-866-493-5803 or by email to manatee@disl.org.