Annual manatee numbers are above 6,000 for the third year in a row, according to preliminary results from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s 2017 manatee survey.
Between Jan. 30 and Feb. 2, 15 people from 10 organizations counted 3,488 individuals on the state’s east coast and 3,132 on the west coast, for a grand total of 6,620 manatees. In 2016, FWC counted 6,250 individuals; 6,063 were counted in 2015; and 4,824 were counted in 2014.
This year is also the first time west coast numbers have hurdled over 3,000.
Manatees that hang around Florida have been wavering in numbers ever since FWC began counting them through aerial surveys in 1991, but generally their numbers have been on an upward trend. The Florida population has nearly quintupled in 26 years.
“Successful conservation of manatees is a product of the commitment made by many different organizations over multiple decades,” said Gil McRae, FWC biologist and head of the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in St. Petersburg. “The relatively high counts we have seen for the past three years underscore the importance of warm water habitat to manatees in Florida.”
The marine mammals need warm water to survive, congregating around 72-degree springs or warm water released from power plants during winter. Otherwise, their organs will start to shut down and their skin will begin to fall off from a condition known as cold stress syndrome.
Cold stress syndrome is one of six determinable causes of death that the FWC records at the end of each year. The majority of manatee deaths statewide were listed as either by boat or were undetermined. In 2016, 520 manatees died, up from 405 the previous year.
FWC has confidence in the recent population count, though, attributing the success to warm weather and good visibility. Maintaining good winter habitats for manatees will only help their numbers.
Aerial survey results of manatees from the FWC
Data from FWC