(December 10, 2018) --

Manatee with cold stress visual on the face. (Courtesy ALMMSN)

The Dauphin Island Sea Lab’s Manatee Sighting Network (DISL/MSN) and Alabama Marine Mammal Stranding Network (ALMMSN) are investigating a recent manatee death that may have been caused by a boat-strike.

The manatee was discovered in the Mobile River shipping channel near downtown Mobile on Wednesday, November 14.  DISL veterinarian, Dr. Alissa Deming, and MSN/ALMMSN biologists conducted a necropsy at DISL’s Marine Mammal Research Center to determine the manatee’s cause of death.  While additional testing is still pending, the initial necropsy showed injuries consistent with blunt force trauma, such as from a boat-strike.

“We’ve only very recently seen boat-related manatee deaths in Alabama or Mississippi waters,” explained DISL Senior Marine Scientist Dr. Ruth H. Carmichael.  “This would only be the second likely watercraft related manatee death in Alabama.  The first was a well-known manatee nicknamed Zewie who died in 2015.”

Manatee with cold stress visual on the body (Courtesy ALMMSN)

The manatee recovered in November was at least 12 years old at the time of his death, and was also well-known to researchers. He had a previous sighting history in the northern Gulf of Mexico.  
This adult male manatee nicknamed ‘Hoth’ first met manatee biologists in 2007 during Crystal River Manatee Health Assessments conducted by USGS and FWC. He was later rescued in the Florida panhandle in February 2017 and treated for severe cold stress at a rehabilitation facility in Florida.

Following his release during the 2017 summer, Hoth travelled to Alabama waters and spent time in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta.  His last known sighting was in Crystal River, Florida in January 2018.
Some manatees migrate to the northern Gulf of Mexico and reside in local waters between mid-May and mid-November each year.  In the winter months, cold water temperatures put manatees remaining in the area at risk of cold stress.  DISL’s Manatee Sighting Network stresses the importance of reporting manatee sightings to the network year-round, but especially during winter months when animals may become distressed and sick.

“Cold stress is the leading cause of death for manatees in Alabama and Mississippi. Prolonged exposure to cold water can result in skin lesions, weight loss, clotting disorders or pneumonia, and can be fatal to manatees,” says network veterinarian Dr. Alissa Deming.  “In Florida, boat strikes are a common cause of death in manatees and Hoth’s case stresses the importance of boating cautiously and keeping an eye out for manatees sharing Alabama waterways.”

If you see a manatee that may be sick or injured, please report your sighting as soon as possible to DISL/MSN by dialing 1-866-493-5803 and choosing the emergency reporting option when prompted.  

You can also support DISL/MSN’s ongoing manatee research by reporting sightings year-round by phone or online at manatee.disl.org.  

For more information on manatees in our area and recommendations on how to safely share our local waterways with these protected marine mammals, visit manatee.disl.org.