Recent population count of endangered manatees offers reason for celebration. Conservation success!
Florida’s annual tally of manatees reveals some good news for the beloved, though endangered, marine mammals. The manatee population is at a record high. The current count of 6,063 is almost 1,000 more animals than the previous record high of 5,077 set in 2010. This is very encouraging news for conservationists who have worked hard over the years to protect and secure a manatee population that has often seemed on the verge of extinction.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Chairman Richard Corbett expressed his pleasure at the new numbers; “Counting this many manatees is wonderful news. The high count this year shows that our long-term conservation efforts are working.”
The final population tally does not necessarily represent the exact number of extant animals in the wild. It is, however, considered to be a close approximation. This year’s total is thought to be a fairly accurate figure because conditions were conducive to accurate and complete counting. Aerial surveys were helped by conducive weather conditions. Predominantly sunny weather during the count compelled manatees to form into large groups in shallow, warm waters, where they could be easily observed – and counted – as they basked in the sun’s warmth.
Additionally, a lot of people worked together to count the porcine beasts. 20 observers from 11 different organizations counted 3,333 manatees on Florida’s east coast and 2,730 on the west coast. The final number is considered to be a minimum total, as manatees that are not seen are, of course, not counted.
The new high count is especially encouraging as it comes on the heels of several tough years for manatees. A significant number of manatees die each year from unnatural causes, that is, from human interaction. Loss of habitat, human pollution, flood gate accidents and run-ins with motor boats are common. In fact, collisions with motor boats provide an additional means of identifying individual animals as the scar patterns on the backs of manatees that result from boat and propellor encounters are unique to each individual.
These animals can live up to 50-60 years and are big and cumbersome, even in the water, with an average adult manatee weighing between 1,500 and 1,800 pounds and measuring 10 to 12 feet in length. They cannot easily or quickly avoid all-too common confrontations with motor boats.
In 2010, 282 manatees died, mostly at the hands of a cold, harsh winter. 371 manatee deaths were reported in 2014; a significant number but down from a record of 830 reported deaths in 2013, purportedly from large red tide algae blooms. Still, the overall manatee population has slowly inched upwards from the few hundred animals extant in the late 1960s.
50 years ago the biggest human threat to manatees was boat collisions. These days pollution is thought to be the greater threat, as boat speeds in manatee waters are strictly regulated. So while the recent population surge is welcome news, many conservationists say that the fight is far from over.
Pat Quinn, Broward County, Florida, manatee coordinator, declared that conservation efforts should continue at a high level to secure the growing population and ensure its long-term viability.
“Given the number of manatees that have died statewide over the past few years,” Quinn said, “we certainly shouldn’t stop future efforts. It takes time for a slow reproducing species to recover from losing 10-plus percent of the population in a single season, and if you have multiple back-to-back seasons, it gets more difficult.”
A request for a reclassification of the manatee from endangered to threatened has been presented to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Fish and Wildlife will reportedly be reviewing the consideration and making a decision some time next year.
Agency spokesman Chuck Underwood indicated that F&W’s decision would be based on a number of factors in addition to current population data. “Adult survival rates, habitat and warm water refuge availability, as well as ongoing and emerging threats are among the other data points the service must also consider in reaching its decision.”
All images via Huffington Post