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Date of Issue: February 04, 2009

State sees high count in manatee survey

This aerial image from the manatee synoptic survey shows manatees gathering at the Florida Power and Light Power Plant at Riviera Beach in Palm Beach County during cooler temperatures the week of Jan. 19. Islander Photo: Tom Reinert/FWC

Alicia and Marcia Childs stood on the Bay Boulevard humpback bridge in Anna Maria looking down.

The children, vacationing from England, wanted to see a manatee. “Like Snooty,” Marcia Childs, 7, said, referring to the much-celebrated manatee that lives at the South Florida Museum in Bradenton.

Several Islanders who passed by offered their comments: “It’s still too cold.” “Sun’s not high enough.” “Try the marina in Holmes Beach.”

“It’s really been too cold to see manatees here,” said Anna Maria resident Howard Griffiths. “Not until we get a lot warmer.”

Manatees may not be easy to find in the water around Anna Maria Island in the winter, but the winter is the best time for state officials to count the endangered marine animals protected by state and federal laws.

With the recent passage of several cold fronts over Florida in a short time period, manatees clustered in warm-water sites, according to Holly Edwards, a biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute.

The cold, along with clear weather and waters, allowed state scientists to conduct its annual synoptic survey the week of Jan. 19 and get a high count.

A team of 21 observers from nine organizations counted 2,153 manatees on the state’s east coast and 1,654 manatees on the west coast. The total exceeded the record count, set in 2001, by 500 manatees, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

The counters found that manatee population numbers appear to be increasing in the northwest area of the state, along the Atlantic Coast and on the upper St. Johns River.

State officials stressed that the survey results are not population estimates and should not be used to assess trends.