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Will tagged manatee return to oiled waters?

May 1, 2010 - Updated May 5, 2010

Dauphin Island, Alabama       
DISL Media Contact:
Dr. Ruth H. Carmichael
Sr. Marine Scientist
Dauphin Island Sea Lab
Phone: 251-508-7010 (cell)
             251-861-7555 (office, M-F)
E-mail: rcarmichael@disl.org

The first manatee tagged in AL waters, dubbed “Bama,” started her return migration toward Alabama, but she may be migrating into dangerous waters.  Researchers at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab’s Mobile Manatees Sighting Network (MMSN) are keeping a close watch on Bama’s return path for two reasons. 

“We were very enthusiastic about her return to northern Gulf waters so that we could learn more about manatee migration patterns between Florida and Alabama waters”, said Dr. Ruth Carmichael, Senior Marine Scientist at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab and Founder of the MMSN. 

The oil spill has unfortunately damped some of that enthusiasm.  “We are concerned for several reasons”, said Carmichael. “The effects of oil on manatees is not well documented, but we know there is risk of intoxication and death.  We also are concerned because Bama is likely not alone.”

[UPDATE] MMSN staff are receiving training today to handle oiled animals.  The staff plans to travel to Apalachicola, Florida to observe Bama as soon as possible. 

Manatees do not necessarily travel together like many other marine mammals, but they tend to migrate along common routes and during the same times of year.  “We know other researchers have been monitoring tagged manatees in the FL panhandle.  All of these animals are potentially at risk”, said Carmichael.

Bama left Crystal River, FL on April 15, 2010 and reached Apalachicola Bay in the FL panhandle in 10 days, where she has remained for the past week.  Bama spent nearly 4 months wintering at the warm water springs in Crystal River before making her way back to the northern Gulf of Mexico.  A second manatee tagged in AL, a male, remains in the Crystal River area.

MMSN researchers will continue to monitor the movements of both tagged manatees and are working with the US Fish and Wildlife Service to map manatee sightings in relation to the expanding oil spill.  “It is extremely important that anyone who sees a manatee contact us immediately so that we can evaluate the animal and record their movements”, said Carmichael.
MMSN researchers and volunteers are preparing to assist with emergency response efforts, in part, by completing special hazardous materials training.

MMSN asks the public to please report any sightings as soon as possible to authorities at MMSN, 1-866-493-5803. Assisting an oiled or stranded animal may be dangerous to you and the animal.  Federal law prohibits interfering with a manatee’s behavior, or harassing them in any way.  The best rule is to stay at least 100 feet away and report the sighting. 

This research and the MMSN are funded by the AL Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries under Traditional Section 6 of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  For more information, to volunteer, or to support this research, visit  http://manatee.disl.org or call MMSN. 

Lisa Young
Public Relations Consultant
E-mail: lyoung@disl.org


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