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Manatees are considered the one of the most unique and gentle creatures on earth, and unbeknownst to most people in Alabama, we have a number of these peaceful marine mammals visiting along our coast.
According to the Dauphin Island Sea Lab Manatee Sighting Network, approximately 6,000 West Indian manatees reside in the U.S. and many live in and migrate through the northern Gulf of Mexico.
Until recently, however, little was known about this protected species outside of Florida. To begin to learn more about where and when manatees reside in our local waters, the Dauphin Island Sea Lab established the Manatee Sighting Network (DISL/MSN) in 2007.
Community involvement encouraged
“Here at DISL’s Manatee Sighting Network, we truly are a network and rely on publicly reported sightings and public support of our program to continue our manatee research, education, and outreach from year to year,” stated Elizabeth Hieb, who is the Manager of the Dauphin Island Sea Lab’s Manatee Sighting Network.
First Network of its kind
DISL/MSN is the first formal manatee sighting network of its kind, using publicly reported sightings combined with targeted research efforts.
According to Hieb, since its inception, DISL/MSN has recorded more than 2,000 opportunistic manatee sightings from Alabama west through Texas. DISL/MSN also operates Alabama’s first manatee tagging program, using satellite GPS telemetry technology to follow manatee migrations from peninsular Florida to the northern Gulf of Mexico. Once thought to be accidental in local waters, research led by DISL/MSN has established manatees as regular seasonal inhabitants and shown that in some cases the same individual manatees return year after year.
Hieb added, “Our work at DISL’s Manatee Sighting Network has shown that manatees are regular seasonal visitors to Alabama waters, and the West Indian manatee is designated as the state’s marine mammal. During warmer months of the year, manatees reside throughout coastal waters of Mobile Bay and the Mobile-Tensaw Delta, so we urge coastal residents and visitors to keep a lookout for manatees and use caution while boating in local manatee habitat.
Additionally, throughout the state, our river systems are all connected to the Mobile Bay system, so central and northern Alabama residents upstream of Mobile Bay still affect the health of manatee habitat downstream. Something as simple as properly disposing of your trash helps keep the bay and delta healthy for manatees and hundred of other species.”
How to get involved
You can help DISL/MSN continue its mission to conduct rigorous scientific research, promote manatee awareness and education, and guide future conservation and management for manatees in the region. Always report manatee sightings 24-hrs toll-free at 1-866-493-5803 or use the online reporting system at manatee.disl.org. Boat with caution on our local waterways, and give manatees space – the best rule of thumb is to stay at least 100 ft away. Like the network on Facebook as Mobile Manatees Sighting Network to keep up with the latest manatee happenings and visit their website to find out more ways you can support DISL/MSN.
“Our work is entirely grant and donation funded. You can visit our website at manatee.disl.org to make a donation or pick up an MSN t-shirt or plush toy, and you can even adopt an Alabama manatee through our partnership with Save the Manatee Club,” Hieb concluded.