Public sighting and tagged animal data suggest that a larger number of West Indian manatees (Trichechus manatus), Alabama's State Marine Mammal, are traveling to and using habitat in Alabama and nearby waters of the northern Gulf of Mexico. This increase corresponds to an overall increase in the number of manatees recorded in Florida and increasing seasonal temperatures in north central Gulf of Mexico. If the overall population of manatees continues to increase and/or environmental conditions promote habitat use earlier and longer during the warm water season, we can expect to see more interactions between local residents and manatees as well as an increase in local manatee mortalities.
The main objective of this project is to conduct scientific research and monitoring to understand the life history of this endangered species in Alabama waters. This includes determining when manatees visit Alabama, where they go (define habitat and refuges), what they eat, what they do, and causes of death. Work includes operating the Dauphin Island Sea Lab's Manatee Sighting Network, regular seasonal habitat monitoring to collect data on temperature, salinity, and dissolved oxygen concentrations in representative habitat sites around Mobile Bay, habitat mapping, direct monitoring of opportunistically sighted and tagged manatees, biochemically tracing diet, working with the Alabama Marine Mammal Stranding Network to determine causes of death, and defining cold season refuges.
Researchers have captured and tagged 10 manatees in Alabama waters. The tags can be tracked by satellite GPS, radio, and acoustic telemetry to help researchers follow manatee movements in Alabama and while migrating to other areas such as wintering grounds in Florida.
Data collected will inform managers and the public about when and where to expect to find manatees, promote safe sharing of local waters (reducing the likelihood of boat strikes, entanglements, watering, feeding or other harassment), enhance response to stranded or distressed animals, and help educate the public on how to safely respond to and observe manatees so that they may continue normal activity (traveling, foraging, breeding, resting) that will allow conservation and recovery of this endangered species that is part of Alabama's natural heritage.