FWC photo from the manatee synoptic survey by Tom Reinert
A team of 21 observers from nine organizations counted 2,153 manatees on Florida’s East Coast and 1,654 on the West Coast of the state, the commission said in a news release.
“This year’s count exceeded the previous high count from 2001 by more than 500 animals. In both years, survey conditions were favorable for aerial observations,” the release said.
By state law, manatees, an endangered species, must be counted every year. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission uses what it calls synoptic survey, which concentrates on areas where scientists believe they will find the highest concentrations of the aquatic mammal. The survey provides researchers with a snapshot of manatee distribution and a minimum number of manatees in Florida waters at the time of the count.
Although synoptic surveys are not population estimates and should not be used to assess trends, the FWC said, it was encouraged by this year’s high count. “Survey results are consistent with population models that show the manatee population appears to be increasing in Northwest Florida, along the Atlantic Coast and on the upper St. Johns River.”
Researchers have been conducting synoptic surveys since 1991, weather permitting. Weather and manatee behavior affect synoptic survey counts. The best conditions for the synoptic survey occur during the coldest months of the year, when manatees gather at warm-water sites, the FWC said.
This year “several cold fronts passed through Florida over a short time period, causing a large number of manatees to move to warm-water sites,” said FWRI biologist Holly Edwards. “Good weather conditions allowed the manatees to be easily seen and counted, contributing to this year’s high count.”
Photo courtesy USGS-Sirenia Project
FWRI researchers are testing new survey methods that will provide a population estimate for Florida manatees as outlined in the FWC’s manatee management plan. The adjustments to the survey will help achieve more accurate results and reduce dependency on the weather.
Related news stories from the Web:
Hundreds of manatees gather for warmth (wptv.com, video below)
Manatees’ record numbers not likely to renew ‘endangered’ debate (MiamiHerald.com)
National Geographic News stories about manatees: