Make Way for Mississippi Manatees

Contributor: Rachael Thomas
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Updated: 6/18 2:39 pm
Many residents and boaters on the Mississippi coast are discovering that the West Indian manatee is a not so uncommon seasonal visitor to local waters. Researchers at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab’s Manatee Sighting Network (D.I.S.L./M.S.N.) have been studying manatees in the northern Gulf of Mexico, particularly Alabama and Florida since 2007. Between 1978 and 2006 there were a total of 26 manatee sightings reported in Mississippi waters, but for the past six years, sighting reports have averaged 16 per year, suggesting a possible increase in numbers of manatees visiting Mississippi and increased public awareness.

Thirteen manatee sightings have already been reported in MS waters this 2014 season. Most manatee sightings in Mississippi occur in tidal rivers such as the Pascagoula and Jordan rivers. Manatees have also spotted in Biloxi Bay, Bay St. Louis, and near shore in the Gulf of Mexico.

Researchers at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab hope to learn where manatees go, what they do, and what they eat while visiting Mississippi and Alabama waters. This information will better inform the public and resource managers about when and where to expect manatees in our area and encourage positive interactions between manatees and people, when they occur.

“Our research has shown that manatees are at least regular seasonal visitors to local waters and we want to make the public aware of them,” said Senior Marine Scientist, Dr. Ruth Carmichael. “We rely heavily on public participation in our sighting program to provide valuable data on manatee movements. These data are important to understand manatees as part of our local ecosystem, and we hope greater awareness and education will allow manatees and people to continue to safely share the waterways.”

The first known manatee mortality due to a boat strike in Mississippi waters occurred in 2013, indicating the need for greater public awareness of these animals in local waters. D.I.S.L./M.S.N. hopes to help meet this need through their research and outreach programs. You can help by reporting manatee sightings to the D.I.S.L./M.S.N. research team 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by phone (1-866-493-5803), email (manatee@disl.org), or online reporting (manatee.disl.org).

Founded in 2007, D.I.S.L./M.S.N. is the only formal manatee sighting network in the U.S. and is dedicated to receiving and mapping every manatee sighting from western Florida through Mississippi. Since its inception, over 1,500 manatee sightings have been reported to D.I.S.L./M.S.N.

Help protect manatees in Mississippi and surrounding waters:
•Report manatee sightings: toll free phone 1-866-493-5803, email manatee@disl.org, website http://manatee.disl.org,
•Boat with caution. Boat strikes are the leading cause of human-related mortality among manatees.
•Give manatees space. Stay at least 100 feet from manatees. Manatees are federally protected endangered species; any activity that changes their natural behavior is harassment and is illegal.
•Spread the word. Tell your friends, family, neighbors, and colleagues to report manatee sightings.
•Like! D.I.S.L./M.S.N. on Facebook. Find us as Mobile Manatees Sighting Network.
•Volunteer. Call or log-on to find out how you can become a volunteer.

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