ST. MARYS, GA. (June 11, 2015) – Five manatees fitted with satellite transmitters mark the start of a project aimed at giving researchers a clearer picture of how these endangered mammals use the murky estuarine waters near the Kings Bay submarine base and along the rest of Georgia’s coast.

Wildlife agencies and organizations from Georgia and Florida teamed up last week to capture, outfit with GPS tracking devices and release the manatees back into Cumberland Sound.

The five are the first tagged in the multi-year effort to document manatee activity near Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, map migratory paths and habitat use along the Southeastern coast, and provide baseline data to help assess manatee health. Project partners include the Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Georgia Aquarium, Sea to Shore Alliance and others.  

Assesing Manatee
Biologists and veterinary staff assess the manatee June 4, 2015. Required credit: Photo by Georgia DNR, taken under USFWS research permit 

Federally listed as endangered, manatees migrate each spring from Florida to Georgia, attracted by abundant marsh grass and other aquatic vegetation. Manatees occur in all tidal waters throughout coastal Georgia from April through October.

These large, slow-moving animals swim just below the surface, often putting them in harm’s way of oncoming boats. Watercraft collisions caused 30 percent of the manatee mortalities documented in the state since 2000. The statistic highlights the need to better understand manatee movements in Georgia.

On June 3 and 4, the team used a DNR helicopter to spot manatees. Clearwater Marine Aquarium’s capture boat deployed a net to encircle the half-ton animals. Biologists and veterinary staff examined those caught – all adult males – took health samples, attached transmitters and released them unharmed. The transmitter, tethered to a belt around the tail, floats at the surface behind the manatee. 

Monica Ross, research scientist with Sea to Shore Alliance, the lead contractor for the work, stressed that the tracking device does not impede the animal’s movement or pose a risk of entanglement. The belt, the tether linked to the transmitter and the tag itself are each designed to part easily, Ross said.

“Manatees have even given birth wearing these tags.”

Georgia Aquarium is helping with field operations and analyzing blood and other samples. “We are proud and excited to be a part of this project, which allows us to expand our Health and Environmental Risk Assessment programs,” said Dr. Gregory Bossart, Georgia Aquarium senior vice president and chief veterinary officer. “These studies allow us to look at dolphins and now manatees as sentinel species, which helps provide Georgia Aquarium and other researchers with valuable information about animal health, the overall health of the oceans they inhabit and how the oceans affect human health.”

Project funding has been provided by Commander, Navy Region Southeast; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; Georgia Aquarium; Georgia Nongame Wildlife Conservation Fund; and, Sea to Shore Alliance.

Staff from the National Park Service, Clearwater Marine Aquarium, U.S. Geological Survey, SeaWorld Orlando, U.S. Coast Guard, National Marine Mammal Foundation, Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC) and Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge also helped capture and tag the manatees.

Attaching Transmitter
A belt is attached to the manatee's peduncle, the narrow area above the tail, June 4, 2015. The satellite transmitter will be attached to the belt by a tether. The belt and transmitter do not impede the animal's movement or pose any risk of entanglement: Each part is designed to break away easily. Required credit: Photo by Georgia DNR, taken under USFWS research permit 

Learn more online about Georgia DNR’s Nongame Conservation Section (www.georgiawildlife.com/conservation), Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay (www.navy.mil/local/subasekb), Georgia Aquarium (www.georgiaaquarium.org) and Sea to Shore Alliance (www.sea2shore.org).

IF YOU SEE A TAGGED MANATEE

Report the manatee to Georgia DNR by calling 1-800-2-SAVE-ME (800-272-8363). 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.

For more:

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Media: Photos at www.flickr.com/photos/wildliferesourcesdivision (“Manatee tracking project” album).

News release from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Resources Division. Releases can be found online at www.georgiawildlife.com/news

Also follow Wildlife Resources Division through:

Contacts:

Rick Lavender, Georgia DNR communications – (706) 557-3327; rick.lavender@dnr.ga.gov

Clay George, Georgia DNR – (912) – (912) 262-3336; clay.george@dnr.ga.gov

Monica Ross, Sea to Shore Alliance – (407) 739-9260; mross@sea2shore.org

Jessica Fontana, Georgia Aquarium – (404) 581-4391, jfontana@georgiaaquarium.org

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ABOUT GEORGIA AQUARIUM

Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, Ga., is one of the world’s most dynamic aquariums—containing more than 10 million gallons of water and the largest collection of aquatic animals. The mission of Georgia Aquarium is to be a premier scientific institution delivering an awe-inspiring entertainment experience which supports animal research and conservation; inspires learning; and instills a passion for the aquatic world.  Its exhibits and programs are of the highest standards, offering engaging guest encounters that promote the conservation of marine biodiversity throughout the world. Georgia Aquarium is an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums. For additional information, visit www.georgiaaquarium.org.