Manatee Education And Outreach Around Alabama

A manatee seen in Alabama's Dog River in April 2024. 
Photo courtesy of Corinne Graddick, DISL/MSN contributor.
A manatee seen in Alabama's Dog River in April 2024. Photo courtesy of Corinne Graddick, DISL/MSN contributor.

By Dr. Ruth Carmichael, Director, DISL/MSN, & Elizabeth Hieb, Research Technician, DISL/MSN

Manatee sighting season has started on the northern Gulf of Mexico coast! Our team here at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab’s Manatee Sighting Network (DISL/MSN) received our first manatee sighting report of the spring in Alabama on March 29 in Dog River, a known hotspot for manatee occurrence in local waters. Since then, we have received several additional reports from the Dog River area as well as sighting reports from the western Florida panhandle and Mississippi. Using photos from these public reports, we have identified two recently sighted manatees as previous visitors to Alabama waters. These early reports have not included sightings of Save the Manatee Club (SMC) adoptee Bama, but we will continue to keep a lookout for her return to the northern Gulf of Mexico coast!

DISL/MSN is also awaiting the arrival of our satellite-tagged manatees, who are known seasonal visitors to Alabama waters. One of these tagged manatees, nicknamed TexasTeeMiguel, has already migrated more than 100 miles northward from his winter location in Crystal River to the Big Bend region near Apalachee Bay, Florida. Another tagged manatee, Clog, has also moved northward from Weeki Wachee, Florida, to Cedar Key, and our third tagged manatee, Sanford, remains in Homosassa Springs, Florida. Monitoring these manatees’ movements helps us better understand important habitats along migratory pathways. Using radio telemetry, we are also able to regularly track tagged manatees in the field and record behavioral observations. One of our current research projects aims to pair these observations with data recorded by the satellite tags, such as depth and dive duration, to categorize types of manatee activities in different habitats. Using this method, we may better define areas that are important to manatees for foraging, resting, or socialization. This information has the potential to guide management and legislative decisions for manatees and their habitats.

In addition to our research, DISL/MSN has been busy this spring at local education and outreach events. Raising awareness for manatees in the northern Gulf of Mexico is a large part of our mission, and we regularly attend community events, give presentations, and distribute educational materials, including some provided by SMC! This spring, for example, we hosted informational booths at the Mobile Boat Show in Alabama and the Biloxi Boat Show in Mississippi. We also hosted our annual Discovery Day open house here at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab and opened our Marine Mammal Research Center to visitors for a behind-the-scenes tour. We also attended the annual VetFest, hosted by our friends at the Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine. These activities help inform members of the public to keep an eye out for manatees in our region and to report sightings to our network!

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