Record manatee count in Florida, but “sea cow” population hardly out of the weeds

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has counted 6,250 manatees across the state, a record number of the so-called “sea cows,” which suggests conservation efforts seem to be working.

The recently released preliminary estimates for this year passes the 2015 record count of 6,063. And, because some animals go undetected in aerial surveys, these counts really are just a minimum number of manatees on the state’s east and west coasts.

“Weather conditions can greatly impact our counts. Fortunately, the conditions during this year’s survey were very good,” FWC biologist Dr. Holly Edwards said in a statement.

Manatee aerial seruvey in Palm Beach, FL/Amber Howell, FWC Fish and Wildlife Reserve/Flickr
Manatee aerial survey in Palm Beach, FL/Amber Howell, FWC Fish and Wildlife Reserve/Flickr

Observers from almost a dozen organizations counted 3,292 manatees on Florida’s east coast and another 2,958 on the west coast. The efforts also give researchers valuable information on species distribution and habitat use, and ultimately, how to better protect the state’s marine mammal.

Manatee aerial survey at Apollo Beach, FL/Stacie Koslovsky, FWC Flickr

The manatee, however, is not living the life of Riley in the state, where it is considered an endangered species.

And now, the Save the Manatee Club is worried about the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s proposal to reclassify the West Indian manatee from endangered to threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act.

“It is completely unclear why FWS feels justified in downlisting the entire species since the agency’s own 12-month finding cites that ‘population trends are declining or unknown in 84 percent of the countries where manatees are found,'” the group notes.

It continues:

“The FWS decision for Florida is largely based on a computer model that does not include two recent, massive die-offs of hundreds of manatees. The manatee population suffered catastrophic losses from prolonged cold snaps and toxic red tide blooms from 2010 through 2013. The computer model also does not deal with loss of habitat due to waterfront development. In addition, there is no long-term plan for the anticipated loss of artificial winter warm water habitat on which more than 60% of the Florida manatee population depends.”

The club is also urging the public to submit their views to the government before the public comment period closes  April 7.

Photos Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission/Flickr

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