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  • January 24, 1997
    From Bruce Ackerman

    ST. PETERSBURG - Researchers at the Department of Environmental Protection's (DEP) Florida Marine Research Institute (FMRI) are planning three aerial surveys of the state's manatee population in 1997. Marine mammal experts at FMRI in St. Petersburg conducted this year's first statewide aerial survey on January 19th and 20th. This was the first manatee population survey since the manatee mass mortalities and record deaths of 1996. FMRI will conduct additional surveys as soon as weather conditions permit.

    In last weekend's survey, FMRI scientists counted 2,229 manatees. These included 900 manatees on the east coast and 1,329 on the west coast. Although this is a lower count than the second survey of 1996, researchers are cautiously optimistic. Habitat loss, a low birth rate and high mortality makes the manatees' long term future uncertain.

    Results of the survey are used by DEP scientists to develop population models and assess trends in the manatee population. This knowledge is instrumental in making management decisions on the future of the manatee. FMRI's Dr. Bruce Ackerman, organizer of the survey stated, "These surveys offer us a unique opportunity to view the manatees' situation statewide. Population models based on these counts and other life history data are an excellent tool for manatee researchers and wildlife managers."

    Nineteen teams of observers participated in the first survey of 1997. These teams consisted of FMRI researchers and staff from 10 state, federal, or county agencies; including the U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Counts were made from 16 aircraft, three ground teams and observers at several power plants.

    The survey area extended throughout Florida's manatee wintering habitat, from Fort Pierce to Key West on the southeast coast. East coast surveys also included specific areas in Brevard, Volusia, Duval and Nassau counties. Surveys on the west coast extended from Tampa to Everglades National Park and at specific areas in Citrus and Wakulla Counties in the northwest region. Two wintering locations in Georgia were also surveyed. Depending on the area covered, aircraft remained in the air for four to nine hours during the survey.

    This year's first survey follows an unprecedented year for the manatee. In February of 1996 the DEP counted 2,639 manatees in Florida's waters, the highest count of the species since statewide surveys began in 1991. Unfortunately, 1996 was also a record year for manatee mortalities. Four hundred and fifteen manatees (415) died in Florida last year. Toxin from the microorganism Gymnodinium breve, commonly known as red tide, killed 151 animals in Southwest Florida from March to April 1996. Collisions with watercraft resulted in a record 60 deaths statewide.

    The DEP expects to continue all current manatee protection strategies and increase its efforts to understand the effects of red tide on the species. Every Floridian can contribute to a future for the manatee by following boating regulations, obeying speed restrictions, staying clear of manatee refuges and avoiding seagrass scarring. If you see an injured, sick, orphaned, dead or radio tagged manatee, please notify the Florida Marine Patrol as soon as possible.. Manatee population surveys are funded by the sale of "Save the Manatee" license tags and other voluntary contributions. Funds are used for critical research, management, and protection activities.


    Jan. 23-24, 1991     1,268
    Feb. 17-18, 1991     1,465
    Jan. 17-18, 1992     1,856
    Jan. 21-22, 1995     1,443
    Feb.  6-7,  1995     1,822
    Jan.  9-10, 1996     2,274
    Feb. 18-19, 1996     2,639
    Jan. 19-20, 1997     2,229