Current Projects
DISL now operates the Alabama Marine Mammal Stranding Network (ALMMSN) For more information visit ALMMSN at http://almmsn.disl.org
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Several species of marine mammals, including dolphin, whales and the endangered West Indian manatee occur in Alabama coastal waters.  The need for enhanced marine mammal monitoring and stranding response is greater now than in the past due to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and the Dauphin Island Sea Lab has responded to this need by operating the Alabama Marine Mammal Stranding Network (ALMMSN). 

Population ecology of West Indian manatees in Alabama waters

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Manatee Capture

This suite of projects includes operation of the DISL's Manatees Sighting Network, photo-identification, aerial and ground surveys, tagging and tracking manatee movements, habitat and food resource characterization (application of stable isotope techniques), analysis of population data and comparison to habitat and food supply data. We are particularly interested in the function of fringe manatees as sentinel species to detect and predict

MMSN and SWF personnel prepare to release a manatee captured in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta in Sep 2009. Photocredit: MMSN

ecosystem level responses to environmental change. A new area of interest is in how climate change may affect habitat and food resources while simultaneously promoting habitat and range expansion.

The DISL's Manatees Sighting Network (MSN) is the first and only network dedicated to collecting, mapping and tracking manatee movements in the nGOM region outside Florida. In September 2009, MMSN and collaborators made history by tagging a manatee for the first time in Alabama waters.

Project outputs will comprehensively define manatee fringe habitat in the nGOM for the first time, predict how future environmental changes are likely to alter habitat and manatee movements, and enable policies to sustain habitat and promote conservation into the future. Specifically, data will inform stakeholders about when and where to expect to find manatees, provide guidance for public notification, help identify recovery priorities with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS), contribute to policy documents, and reduce the likelihood of strandings or conflicts between manatees and people.

This work also has tremendous synergy, including collaborators at the local, state and federal levels and brings substantial public awareness to our research program and institutions.

The projects, funded by the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Mobile Bay National Estuary Program, are a collaboration between Dauphin Island Sea lab and researchers at Sea to Shore Alliance.

For more information and to report a sighting please visit http://manatee.disl.org

Factors affecting ecology and physiology of bivalves in nGOM waters (and elsewhere)

Heather Patterson
Graduate student Heather Patterson prepares to collect sentinel oysters transplanted in Mobile Bay. Photocredit: N. Taylor


a. Use of N stable isotope ratios in bivalve shell to trace anthropogenic N sources—This work involves isolation and analysis of stable isotope ratios in organic material from whole shells or annual bands of bivalve shells.  These data are applied to trace historical changes in land-derived N loads to estuaries and into estuarine ecosystems.  These data are useful to discern the relative importance of anthropogenic change compared to natural environmental variation through time and help define legacy effects of anthropogenic change on coastal systems.

 b. Effects of hypoxia on oyster growth and survival in Mobile Bay, AL—This project seeks to guide and improve local oyster restoration projects by defining the effects of hypoxic stress on oyster physiology and, in turn, on oyster growth and survival.  This work is novel in using N stable isotope ratios to detect physiological stress.  This is an area of high promise for future studies.  

 Data may be applied immediately to improve restoration success by guiding land-use planning, site selection and timing for culture and seeding activities, and other programs. This project addresses management and research priorities for Mobile Bay that have been identified by the Gulf of Mexico Alliance, MS-AL Sea Grant Consortium, AL Fish and Wildlife Service, and NOAA.

The trophic importance of land-derived organic matter

Students sort fish for stable isotope analysis. Photocredit: R. Carmichael

This work employs natural abundance stable isotope ratios to define trophic linkages along a salinity and corresponding organic matter gradient in Mobile Bay. This study will collect the first spatially and temporally explicit data on organic matter sources available as food to forage fish and invertebrates in Mobile Bay to define the contribution of land-derived OM to open-water fisheries via recycling through the Mobile Bay system.

These data are needed to understand dietary sources to commercially important open-water fisheries and inform locally relevant ecosystem-based fisheries management. If compared with fishery-dependent and independent data, outputs from this project will be immediately useful to assess relationships between food sources and dynamics of near shore target fisheries.

Development and integration of metadata and research data retention at DISL


Through this project DISL served as a model institution to demonstrate how data management can be integrated into normal regular research protocols.  This project is a collaboration with the DISL Data Management Committee , Data Management Center, and NOAA’s National Coastal Data Development Center (NCDDC).  The project funds a Data Management Specialist to assist faculty, staff, and students at DISL with learning about, creating, and publishing metadata.

Using molts to evaluate fringe horseshoe crab populations in Downeast Maine and the northern Gulf of Mexico

In The News

Horseshoe crabs
Horseshoe crab molts collected in Mississippi Soundduring spring and summer 2009. Photocredit: R. Moody

This research is ongoing and involves conducting population surveys using molts as a proxy for living size classes.  We will compare data from Alabama horseshoe crabs to similarly collected data from horseshoe crabs in Maine. This research is valuable to help define the population parameters of this commercially and ecologically important species.  Most work on this animal has been conducted in the mid-Atlantic.  Horseshoe crabs in the nGOM also are of interest as extralimital or fringe species, data for which may be useful to better understand the world's population of horseshoe crab and ecosystem level responses to large-scale environmental change.


Past Projects


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Wildlife trust
Alabama Division of Wildlife & Fresh Water Fisheries

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Sea to Shore
Sea to Shore Alliance

Mobile Bay National
Estuary Program

Al Div of Fish & Wildlife
Baldwin County Soil and Water Conservation District

Tacky Jacks Bar & Grill


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