Harrison County

Rescue team seeking manatee stranded in South Mississippi

The Alabama Marine Mammal Stranding Network, Sea World Rescue, Dauphin Island Sea Lab and IMMS are working Friday, Jan. 13, 2017, to capture a manatee spotted in the Biloxi and Tchoutacabouffa rivers.
The Alabama Marine Mammal Stranding Network, Sea World Rescue, Dauphin Island Sea Lab and IMMS are working Friday, Jan. 13, 2017, to capture a manatee spotted in the Biloxi and Tchoutacabouffa rivers.

A rescue team from Sea World could not rein in a wayward manatee swimming through the South Mississippi waterways Friday.

Angela Levins, spokeswoman for the Dauphin Island Sea Lab in Mobile, said the Alabama Marine Mammal Stranding Network got a call Tuesday evening about a manatee spotted in the Biloxi River.

“We went out Wednesday morning and Thursday morning to monitor the manatee,” she said.

The Stranding Network alerted Sea World Rescue, which has specialized equipment to help capture the sea mammal. Once captured, it will be taken back to Sea World, and when healthy, will be released in Crystal River, Florida.

Friday morning, the Sea World Rescue team arrived and has been following the manatee, trying to capture it. Levins said they are on the Tchoutacabouffa River, but did not want to give an exact location.

“We just don’t want extra boats around, which could cause stress to the manatee,” she said.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and South Mississippi’s Institute for Marine Mammal Studies also are involved in the rescue efforts.

Though the group had the manatee in its net several times Friday, they could not bring it into the boat, said Noel Wingers, coordinator for the Mammal Stranding Network.

“This one was behaving really well,” Wingers said. “It was moving around quite a bit and breathing normally. But we want to move it quickly.”

“We will regroup and try again,” she said, noting the Sea Lab would have to coordinate with the other groups involved before venturing out again. She did say, however, it would be soon because they don’t want the animal to become distressed.

“It’s what we call an out-of-habitat animals,” Wingers said. “Manatees require warm water to survive.”

When they are out of warm water for prolonged periods, she said, they develop what is known as cold-stress syndrome, which can kill the creatures. “Their bodies shut down and they die,” she said.

The manatee spotted in the Biloxi River is believed to be a straggler of the manatees migrating back to the warmer Florida waters for the winter. Wingers said the best estimate is there are 100 to 200 manatees in the northern Gulf of Mexico as far west at Texas. They also will swim as far north up the Eastern Seaboard as Massachusetts during the summer, but then head south as the waters start to cool.

The last count in Florida had the manatee population numbered about 6,000.

Manatees are not uncommon sights in South Mississippi. In November, a fisherman casting his line on the west Pascagoula River spotted an 8- to 10-footer.

In June, three manatees were spotted on the Pascagoula River in Moss Point by children attending a summer camp at the Pascagoula River Audubon Center.

Anyone who sees a manatee in South Mississippi should call the Alabama Marine Mammal Stranding Network at 1-866- 493-5803

If you go

What: Presentation at the Gulf Coast Research Lab Science Cafe

Who: Ruth Carmichael, senior marine specialist at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab

When: 6 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2017

Where: Gulf Coast Research Lab Dining Hall

Note: Carmichael will talk about understanding the northern Gulf of Mexico’s manatees.

Details: Joyce Shaw at 228-872-4213 or joyce.shaw@usm.edu

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