Biologists in the state of Florida have counted a record number of manatees this winter. According to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), a total of 6,063 manatees were spotted during the February count. The aerial survey was conducted by a team of 20 biologists from 11 organizations. They counted 3,333 manatees on Florida’s East Coast and 2,730 on the West Coast.
This year’s count is nearly 1,000 higher than the previous record
This year’s count is about 1,200 more than last year’s 4,824 and 986 more than the previous record high of 5,077 in 2010. Of the 3,333 sea cows counted on Florida’s East Coast, 1,141 were at the Florida Power & Light Co’s power plant in Port St. John. FWC biologist Holly Edwards said manatees were able to cope with the strong cold because of warm-water sites and other winter habitat areas.
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Researchers said sunny and warm weather allowed manatees to rest at the water’s surface, which facilitated their efforts to count the sea cows. The annual manatee surveys are required by Florida law, as long as weather permits. Counts were canceled in 2012 and 2013 because winter temperatures were not low enough for manatees to huddle into easy-to-count herds.
Scientists relieved by high manatee count
When the winter temperatures are low enough, manatees move to warm-water discharges at natural springs and power plants, where they can be spotted easily. The figures are not reliable, though. One biologist compared the manatee counts to “counting popcorn while it pops.” However, Gil McRae, director of the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, said conditions were “near-optimal” for this year’s count.
Researchers in no way can estimate the number of manatees not visible during these surveys. So, the results are considered a minimal count of the statewide manatee population. This year’s figures tell that there are at least 6,063 manatees in Florida waters. Researchers were relieved by the high count, especially after witnessing a large number of manatees killed by Red Tide toxins and cold in recent years. In 2013, the statewide manatee death toll surpassed 8,00.