Manatee season is underway in the northern Gulf of Mexico – Your help is needed to report sightings

by Elizabeth Hieb, Manatee Sighting Network

The nose of a manatee sticks out of the water.

If you are enjoying the warm summer weather on the northern Gulf of Mexico coast, you may just spot one of the coast’s most charismatic seasonal visitors – the West Indian manatee. So far this year, researchers at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab’s Manatee Sighting Network (DISL/MSN) have received more than 150 sightings of manatees from Alabama, Mississippi, and the Florida panhandle. Manatees typically begin their migration to the northern Gulf Coast in early April when the waters are warming, and they return to central Florida in October as the water cools.

With manatee migration underway, DISL/MSN encourages manatee spotters to report their sightings as soon as possible.

“We really depend on the public to report every sighting, any time, as soon as possible. Much of what we know about our local manatee population comes from sighting information shared with us from coastal residents and visitors to our area,” states Senior Marine Scientist, Dr. Ruth H. Carmichael.

You can help by reporting manatee sightings to the DISL/MSN research team 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by phone (1-866-493-5803), email (, or online sighting form (

DISL/MSN also reminds coastal residents to keep a lookout for tagged manatees. DISL/MSN’s research team is currently tracking two manatees that were tagged in Alabama last August. Tags, which consist of a floating canister with an antenna, float a few feet behind the manatee and are equipped with VHF, sonar, and satellite GPS capabilities.

Manatee with tag.

“Sightings of tagged manatees help us learn more about behavior and group sizes in addition to movement and habitat use,” says DISL/MSN Manager Elizabeth Hieb. “Reporting sightings can be especially important if tags malfunction and we need help relocating tagged manatees.”

DISL/MSN also asks boaters to help ensure we safely share local waterways with manatees by boating with caution and looking for manatees when on the water. Wearing polarized sunglasses and designating a manatee spotter onboard are great ways to help keep manatees safe.

“If you do see a manatee, you should immediately cut your motor and stay at least 100 feet from the animals. They are federally protected, and these actions will help keep manatees and people safe,” says Dr. Carmichael.

You can assist DISL/MSN’s research and help protect manatees in northern Gulf of Mexico waters:

  • Report manatee sightings to DISL/MSN via our website, toll free phone 1-866-493-5803, or email
  • Boat with caution. Boat strikes are the leading cause of human-related mortality among manatees.
  • Give manatees space. Stay at least 100 feet from manatees. Manatees are federally protected species; any activity that changes manatees’ natural behavior is harassment and is illegal.
  • Spread the word. Tell your friends, family, neighbors, and colleagues to report manatee sightings to DISL/MSN.
  • Like! DISL/MSN on Facebook. Find us under Mobile Manatees Sighting Network.