Will this be a banner year for manatees?
After a record number of deaths last year, wildlife officials counted 4,831 of the aquatic mammals in Florida's waters, the third highest number since the statewide aerial survey began in 1991.
Thu, Apr 03, 2014 at 03:13 PM
Photo: Barcroft Media//Getty Images
Florida wildlife officials are pleasantly surprised by the findings of this year's manatee count.
In January, a team of 20 people from wildlife and conservation organizations counted 4,831 of the marine creatures.
"This year's manatee count is the third highest we have recorded since the first statewide aerial survey in 1991," Gil McRae, director of the Florida Wildlife and Conservation Commission’s research institute, told CBS Miami. "We are encouraged by the relatively high count, especially given the high number of manatee deaths documented recently."
The high number surprised officials because a record number of manatee deaths were reported last year.
The 829 deaths in 2013 were attributed to a red tide outbreak — toxic algae the animals eat or inhale — and unknown troubles that have plagued the populations in the Indian River Lagoon.
The two previous high counts of manatees spotted during a count were 5,011 in 2010 and 4,834 in 2011.
Weather conditions were too warm for counting during the previous two winters. Cold conditions, such as those experienced in January, drive the animals into warm water refuges making them easier to count.
It’s impossible to count every manatee in Florida's waters, but cold-weather surveys allow wildlife officials to calculate a minimum number of the animals. However, the count can't be used to determine long-term population trends.
Although manatee numbers were higher than expected, the aquatic mammals are still considered endangered.
A variety of factors contribute to manatee deaths, including boat strikes, cold temperatures and disease, but scientists are stumped by what killed a record number of the animals last year.
Only 276 of the 829 deaths have been attributed to the red tide outbreak.
The loss of manatees isn't only detrimental to the species' survival, but also to the local economy.
Florida is the only place in the world besides Belize where people can legally swim with manatees, and areas like Crystal River, Fla., are dependent on tourism dollars that the marine animals bring in.
Watch the video below to learn more about last year's mysterious manatee die-off and its impact.
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