Florida manatee count indicates stability

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There are at least 3,116 manatees in state waters, scientists announced Wednesday, eight days after they completed an aerial survey of the marine mammals, reports the Florida newspaper Sun Sentinel.

While the number is slightly lower than last year’s count, scientists with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute said they don’t compare the annual counts and instead use the results only for computer modelling

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“We don’t use these numbers to make management decisions, because of the bias that’s inherent in the number, not knowing how many we miss from year to year,” state biologist Holly Edwards said. “These are a minimum count.”

However, this year’s count isn’t far from the highest count ever recorded, 3,300 in 2001, suggesting the population is relatively stable, she said.

Biologists have been working on developing a new method for counting the manatee population, while other state scientists have conducted a biological analysis of the species.

That study suggested the manatee should be removed from the state’s endangered species list and labelled “threatened” instead. State wildlife commissioners will decide the issue later this year.

But scientists are required by state law to conduct the aerial survey, which was conducted on Feb. 14 by 18 observers.

They chose last week for the count because of the cold spell followed by a warm-up, Edwards said.

The results of the survey will be used for computer models that require starting points, minimum population counts, and little else, she added.

Source: South Florida Sun Sentinel