Exceptional weather conditions lead to record high manatee count
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Media contact: Carli Segelson, 727-896-8626
After nearly two weeks of record cold weather in
Florida, biologists counted an all-time-high number of manatees
during the annual synoptic survey the week of Jan. 11.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation
Commission's (FWC) Fish and Wildlife Research Institute reported a
preliminary count of 5,067 manatees statewide. A team of 21
observers from 10 organizations counted 2,779 manatees on Florida's
East Coast and 2,288 on the West Coast. The final numbers will be
available at the end of February, following verification of the
This year's count exceeded the previous high count
from 2009 by more than 1,200 animals. The survey conditions
were favorable for aerial observations in both years, but were
especially favorable this year as a result of the extended period
of cold weather.
"This year's high count reflects the influence that
weather has on aerial survey results," said FWC biologist Holly
Edwards. "The record-breaking cold temperatures helped to bring
many more manatees to the warm-water sites than in previous years.
In addition, the calm, clear weather conditions on the days of the
survey helped us to see and count record numbers."
The goal of the synoptic survey is to count as many
manatees as possible. The survey results provide researchers with a
minimum number of manatees in Florida waters at the time of the
survey. Synoptic results are not population estimates and should
not be used to assess trends.
While this year's results do not mean the manatee
population grew by more than 1,200 animals in a single year, they
do tell researchers there are at least 5,000 manatees in Florida
waters. The FWC is encouraged to have counted so many manatees. The
high count is consistent with models that show the manatee
population is growing or stable in most areas of the state.
"Counting this many manatees is wonderful news,"
said FWC Chairman Rodney Barreto. "The high count this year shows
that our long-term conservation efforts are working."
The cold weather that helped researchers obtain the
record high count also highlighted the importance of warm-water
habitat for the species. During the recent cold snap, biologists
noted unusually large numbers of manatees gathered in the
warm-water sites for extended periods of time. FWC
researchers, managers and law enforcement officers closely
monitored the large numbers of manatees dependent on these sites.
To maintain the species into the future, the FWC will continue to
monitor threats such as loss of warm-water habitat which, models
indicate, can profoundly affect the manatee population.
To report a dead or distressed manatee, call the
FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922).