Scientists are learning more about how manatees travel along the Georgia coast. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources is part of a project tracking the large sea mammals with GPS devices.
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Clay George, a wildlife biologist with the DNR, said they’ve learned that manatees regularly venture into the Kings Bay Naval Submarine base near the Florida border, where they find “artificial” sources of fresh water to drink from.
“About once a week they will go to these locations, either up a river where there is natural fresh water, or to industrial sites or wastewater discharges to drink from,” said George, noting a change. Manatees are lingering longer before traveling to Florida for the winter.
“Some animals will stick around until November or December, and if they can find one of these industrial sites, they’ll stay all year,” George said.
Manatees are a protected species. They swim just beneath the surface, so they are in danger of boat strikes. George calls the Intracoastal Waterway “the manatee highway because the animals can move north and south easily, in and out of Florida, without having to go into the open ocean.”
The waterway is also a primary passageway for boats moving up and down the Atlantic coast, endangering the manatees. Since 2000, boat collisions have caused 27 percent of manatee deaths documented in Georgia, highlighting the need to better understand migration patterns.