Seeker Archives

Record 6,250 Manatees Spotted in Florida Waters

Conservationists say the record reflects years of efforts to protect the marine mammals.

The number of manatees in the waters around Florida have reached a new peak of at least 6,250, conservationists said Thursday, a record reflecting years of efforts to protect the marine mammals.

The count is up slightly from the 6,063 spotted last year, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said in a statement, citing results from surveys conducted by 11 organizations.

Make Way For Manatees Month: Photos

Last month, the US Fish and Wildlife Service proposed downgrading the manatee's status from endangered, a designation given to species on the brink of extinction, to threatened.

Manatees, which are also known as sea cows, have been on the endangered list for more than 40 years due to threats posed by urbanization, water contamination and collisions with boats.

During winter months, manatees head for warmer waters. Their return in the spring affords researchers an ideal opportunity to take stock of their health and their numbers.

US Says Manatee Should Lose Endangered Species Status

The survey is conducted by air and the count represents the minimum number of manatees in the area.

The Florida manatees are part of the estimated 13,000 that also includes those living in the Caribbean and along the coasts of Colombia, Venezuela and Brazil.

Manatees live in shallow waters and must come to the surface to breathe about every 15 minutes. The herbivores can reach four meters (13 feet) long, weigh up to 600 kilos (1,300 pounds) and live about 40 years.

November is Manatee Awareness Month, proclaimed so each year by the state of Florida, whose waters are a winter home to the state's official marine mammal. Florida and the manatee go hand in hand. In November, manatees start returning to the warmer water refuges in the state. They're a subtropical species, and they can't handle exposure of any duration to water temperatures below 68 degrees F. In honor of the month of the manatee, let's take a look at pictures of the slow-swimming mammal in action.

Manatee Mystery: Why Can't They Avoid Speedboats?

Also known as a "seacow," the manatee is an air-breathing herbivore that's listed as a federally endangered species.

PHOTOS: Mammals of the Sea

Here the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is visited by several marine mammal species, including the endangered West Indian manatee (

Trichechus manatus

).

Mysterious Die-offs in Florida Lagoon

There are many seasonal manatee zones in Florida that go into effect beginning in early November. Boaters are asked to pay close attention to posted signs indicating they should slow down in such waters.

Red Tide Slaughtering Florida Manatees

When a manatee calf is born, the mother nurses it for about one to two years. The bond between mom and calf is strong during the nursing phase. The mother teaches the calf how to find food and warm water and how to locate migration routes.

Manatees are slow swimmers because they have no natural predators and they're herbivores. They don't have much evolutionary need to swim fast when chasing prey or being chased by predators.

Adorable Animals You Just Want to Kiss: Photos

The typical adult manatee is just under 10 feet long and weighs between 800 and 1,200 pounds.

PHOTOS: 30 Days of the Ocean

A mom and baby manatee swim in a canal in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Manatees feed on various submerged, emergent, and floating plants. Key feeding areas for them include seagrass beds and freshwater, submerged aquatic vegetation.

The federal Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 and the Endangered Species Act of 1973 are the manatee's key pieces of protective legislation. The Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act of 1978, meanwhile, gives added protection to the creature in that state.