SARASOTA, Fla. (June 4, 2018)Researchers from Florida-based Sea to Shore Alliance,  Georgia Aquarium, and Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) successfully led a team of manatee experts and volunteers to capture, tag, and release four manatees in Cumberland Sound on Wednesday, May 30. The captures are an essential element of a Sea to Shore Alliance-led study to map the protected species’ movements near Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, document migratory paths and habitat use in regions along the East Coast outside of Florida, and collect baseline data to help assess manatee health.

“We know manatees move north during the warmer months of the year,” said Monica Ross, research scientist with Sea to Shore Alliance and the project leader. “What we are interested in understanding is what routes they are using to make these moves and where they are finding food and water during their trip. We also hope to get a better understanding as to why these adventurous manatees travel hundreds of miles north each year and what triggers their decision to travel south just before winter sets in.”

The four manatees – two large adult males (10-10.5 feet long) and two juvenile females (8.5 feet long) – will be tracked using highly accurate GPS tags. One of the females was a surprise recapture. She was originally tagged in 2017, but lost the tag several months later.

“It was great to see her again as we had been worried about her health prior to her tag loss due to a boat strike she had received while in south Georgia,” said Ross.

Prior to this project, little was known about manatees in Georgia, which are typically spotted in the coastal areas from April to October when water temperatures are warm. Data collected since the project began in 2015 has revealed that manatees regularly venture into the submarine base to find artificial freshwater source to drink from, rest in calm waters, and even give birth in a seclude cove. The biologists have documented manatees moving north and south along the Georgia coast using the Intracoastal Waterway and open Atlantic shoreline. Manatees have been documented traveling into a multitude of small creeks during high tides and resting in the deeper portions of rivers during low tides.

“Manatees are an interesting mammal to study and we have learned a great deal from these health assessments. We continue to find valuable data on the manatees living in this area, as well as baseline indicators for their health and the condition of these waterways,” said Dr. Gregory Bossart, senior vice president and chief veterinary officer at Georgia Aquarium. “Not only does this information help us monitor these animals’ health, but the health of the environment and how it may be intrinsically linked to our own health.”

Each tagged manatee is fitted with a belt around the narrow part of its tail and a floating transmitter tag. The equipment is safe for the manatees and each piece is designed to come off the animal if entangled. Researchers carefully track the GPS coordinates online daily and check on the tagged manatees in the field weekly.

“It’s been very exciting to see how manatees move throughout coastal Georgia, and how they use the habitat,” said Clay George, a senior wildlife biologist who leads marine mammal research for DNR. “These tags are helping us confirm that manatees use a range of our tidal waters, from tiny marsh creeks to the open ocean.”

Staff and volunteers from Clearwater Marine Aquarium, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, National Parks Service, National Marine Mammal Foundation, Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), U.S. Coast Guard, University of Florida, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service assisted with the captures and health assessments.

IF YOU SEE A MANATEE IN GEORGIA: Report all manatee sightings to Georgia DNR at 800-272-8363 or 800-241-4113 after hours or on weekends.
IF YOU SEE A TAGGED MANATEE IN FLORIDA: Call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at 888-404-FWCC (3922). When reporting a manatee sighting, please note the time, date, location, color of the tag and whether any other manatees are present. Do not chase, touch or otherwise harass the manatee, or touch the tag. The tag is harmless to the animal.

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About Sea to Shore Alliance
Sea to Shore Alliance, through research, education, and conservation, works to improve the health and productivity of coastal environments for the threatened and endangered species and human livelihoods that depend on them. Sea to Shore Alliance is a Florida-based 501(c)(3) grassroots, field-based research, conservation, and education organization with projects in the U.S., Belize, and Cuba. Sea to Shore Alliance’s projects all focus on three key species: manatees, sea turtles, and right whales. Please visit www.Sea2Shore.org to learn more.

About Georgia DNR
The mission of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources is to sustain, enhance, protect and conserve Georgia’s natural, historic and cultural resources. As one of six DNR divisions, the Wildlife Resources Division is charged with conserving, enhancing and promoting wildlife resources, including game and nongame animals, fish and rare plants. These efforts involving nongame wildlife, such as manatees, depend primarily on public support, including contributions and sales and renewals of DNR’s eagle and hummingbird license plates. Please visit www.georgiawildlife.com to learn more.

About Georgia Aquarium
Georgia Aquarium is a leading 501(c)(3) non-profit organization located in Atlanta, Ga. that is Humane Certified by American Humane and accredited by the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Georgia Aquarium is committed to working on behalf of all marine life through education, preservation, exceptional animal care, and research across the globe. Georgia Aquarium continues its mission each day to inspire, educate, and entertain its millions of guests about the aquatic biodiversity throughout the world through its hundreds of exhibits and tens of thousands of animals across its seven major galleries. For more information, visit georgiaaquarium.org.