Great News: Record Numbers of Manatees Spotted in Florida

Great News: Record Numbers of Manatees Spotted in Florida

For the 3rd straight year, more than 6,000 manatees have been spotted swimming in Florida. The gentle giants were among the first aquatic mammals to receive protection from the federal government in 1967, with their rebounding numbers pointing to a status improved from “endangered” to “threatened.” [1]

Earlier this month, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission performed an aerial survey of the manatees and discovered at least 6,620 “sea cows” swimming in Florida waters – an all-time high. In 1991, a mere 1,267 manatees were spotted. [1] [2]

Conservationists are concerned, however, that it might be too soon to downgrade their federal protections, as they continue to suffer hardships despite their increasing numbers.

Clare Aslan, a community ecologist and conservation biologist at Northern Arizona University, explains:

“A downlisting reduces the protections offered to a species. For example, there’s a low level of ‘take’ (such as accidental death or injury) that is allowed for a threatened species in the course of management activities, whereas that take (and thus any risky activities) is prohibited for an endangered species. Therefore, for management agencies, there’s more flexibility when dealing with a threatened species than there is for an endangered species.”

For example, as humans spread out and spend more time in manatees’ natural habitat, they increasingly pose a grave danger to the beasts. Boat collisions have proven to be particularly fatal, and most Florida manatees have scars from boat propellers. In 2016, 520 manatee deaths were recorded, and 104 of them were attributed to boats. Manatees are also threatened by cold weather and red tide, a harmful algal bloom.

Katie Tripp, director of science and conservation for the Save the Manatee Club, says:

“The threat is still out there, and it’s not going away. You don’t celebrate when you’re not done with the game. There’s a lot more work to be done to safeguard the habitat, to get manatees removed from the Endangered Species Act altogether.” [2]

Under the act, an endangered species is defined as one currently in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range. The designation came with federal restrictions on boat speed and waterfront development, among other things, all of which have been credited with protecting the species and reversing its decline.

A threatened species is considered one that is likely to become endangered in the near future.

The manatee remains protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.


[1] The Christian Science Monitor

[2] CNN