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FWC reports good news in aerial manatee count

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The annual manatee population survey overseen by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) reported a growing number of manatees in the state's waters. Twenty observers from nine organizations counted 2,317 manatees on Florida's east coast and 2,514 manatees on Florida's west coast. The count was conducted on January 24 and January 27, 2014. This is a preliminary count of 4,831 manatees and once the survey data has been verified the final numbers will be available.

“This year’s manatee count is the third highest we have recorded since the first statewide aerial survey in 1991,” said Gil McRae, director of the FWC’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in a recent FWC press release. “We are encouraged by the relatively high count, especially given the high number of manatee deaths documented recently. Information on warm-water habitat use from this year’s survey will be integrated with manatee survival and reproductive rates to update future population projections.”

The aerial manatee survey has taken place every year since 1991except for 2012 and 2013 because the winter weather those years was too warm to draw the manatees together in areas for protection from the cold. It's this yearly migration to warm water refuges within the state that provide a natural form of herding the mammals into areas where they are easier to count.

FWC scientists use these counts to map distribution of manatees at the time of the survey and for a base number of manatees populating Florida's waters on those two days in January. Because the manatees are freely congregating in these areas depending on weather conditions which vary from year to year, these counts aren't used for determining long-term population trends.

“After two winters of above-average temperatures, this year we received several consecutive, strong cold fronts that helped to gather manatees at warm-water sites where they could be more easily counted,” said FWC manatee biologist Holly Edwards.

Surveys such as these provide wildlife conservation managers with information needed to help protect this endangered species. Results stress the necessity of warm-water habitats to manatees during winter cold spells and the importance of them to the manatee's health and survival.

For more information about the Florida manatee visit the FWC website.

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