On September 15, IMMS staff attended a manatee stranding workshop held in Baton Rouge, Louisiana at the LSU campus. The workshop, hosted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, included a seminar and necropsy training session for Gulf Coast stranding network members.
Manatees are endangered and are federally protected under the Endangered Species Act. They are marine mammals that breathe air and give birth to live young. These animals can live in both fresh and salt water and can be found eating sea grasses in ocean environments, estuaries, and freshwater rivers. In murky water, they can be very difficult to see and often suffer serious injuries from boat collisions. They are also curious animals and often become entangled in marine debris such as monofilament fishing line, and other fishing gear which is often detrimental to their health and can be life threatening.
Manatees spend most of their time in warm Florida waters. During warmer months, some manatees leave Florida and travel up the Eastern coast of the U.S. or travel along the northern Gulf of Mexico. In recent years, more manatees have begun to travel outside of Florida. Most of these migrating manatees move back to Florida during the winter but some do not. These animals are at risk in cold weather and may suffer cold stress in winter. A manatee suffering from cold stress may be lethargic and have white patches of skin on its appendages. This is a serious condition and should be photographed and reported immediately. A responder will be sent to evaluate the situation and possibly coordinate a rescue.
IMMS is part of the Gulf Coast manatee monitoring network. We work closely with Dr. Ruth Carmichael from Dauphin Island Sea Lab to monitor all manatees along the Gulf Coast. Because manatees are not common outside of Florida, many people are not aware of the dangers these animals face and what we can do to protect them. If you see any manatee along the Gulf Coast of MS, please provide photos of the sighting to IMMS so that we may monitor the animal while it is in Mississippi. In the future, IMMS hopes to provide education and awareness to Mississippi Gulf Coast Residents so that we all can contribute to the survival of this endangered species.