|SOTT | Jan 11, 2015 | Janet McConnaughey|
As manatees recover in Florida, their U.S. home base, more and more seem to be showing up farther west along the Gulf of Mexico.
A total of seven stranded manatees had been reported along the Alabama coast before 2007, when a network to report strandings and sightings was created. Since then, "we've responded to dozens" of strandings, said Ruth Carmichael, head of the Dauphin Island Sea Lab's Manatee Sighting Network for Alabama and Mississippi.
"I think things are changing, in the manatee population and in the environment," she said Tuesday. She said scientists know there are more of the big, gentle marine mammals than there used to be. "But habitat is stable or declining. Animals are being forced to do something. The natural thing would be to spread out."
In hope of gathering enough data to learn whether her impression is accurate, she's now working with people in Louisiana and Texas to expand the network - "as far as I know, the only manatee sighting network in the country" - to those states.
"We see more animals coming here, staying longer, going farther west. We want to be prepared," Carmichael said.