Scientists in Georgia are studying the habits of manatees. They’re catching, then tagging them with GPS transmitters, so they can track where they go.
The big, slow marine mammals come from Florida up to the Georgia coast during warm months. They can actually migrate as far north as Rhode Island, said Monica Ross, a research scientist with the nonprofit Sea to Shore Alliance.
Her group is working with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Georgia Aquarium to tag and track the manatees. They're hoping to learn how many manatees are in Georgia, and where they travel along the coast.
“Georgia specifically has a lot of tidal flats which have really nice marsh grass during high tide that manatees will feed on,” she said.
They’re focusing on manatees near Cumberland Island and the Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base. The Navy and federal and state agencies are supporting the research.
According to the DNR, more than a quarter of manatees deaths in Georgia are caused by collisions with boats.
That’s partially because they’re curious animals, said Ross, and they’ll get too close to boats.
They are also docile, she said. Even though they can weigh more than 1,000 pounds, once the scientists – it can take a dozen or more – have gotten them on to land for tagging, they are usually calm.
“I call them the possum of the marine mammal world,” she said.
This is the second year the scientists have caught and tagged manatees near Cumberland Island. The GPS tags are meant to stay on the animals for about a year. So far, seven manatees have tags.