Florida wildlife officials encouraged by high manatee count

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A team of 15 observers from 10 organizations flying around various regions counted 3,488 manatees on Florida's east coast from Jacksonville to the Keys, and 3,132 on the west coast from the Wakulla River down to the Everglades. An aerial study which ended at the beginning of this month presented a total number of 6,620 manatees.

Nevertheless, the numbers now are far higher than the 1,267 manatees counted by the first state-sponsored survey in 1991.

In the second revision to the estimate in three years, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service now say between 120 and 230 of the wildcats are roaming, mostly in Southwest Florida.

Given the mild winter, Hartley said he continues to see new manatees coming into the park "because they're out traveling in the warm water". That raises concern for state wildlife officials and manatee advocates.

Attempting to spot manatees for the count can be hard, since they only surface every five minutes or so to breathe.

It was the third straight year that population estimates glowed. "For example, there's a low level of "take" (such as accidental death or injury) that is allowed for a threatened species in the course of management activities, whereas that take (and thus any risky activities) is prohibited for an endangered species".

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"Ideally you have manatees at all natural sites, which you would have protected for them", Katie Tripp, director of science and conservation for the Save the Manatee Club, told the Miami Herald.

People who want to support manatee research and conservation efforts may do so by buying a manatee license plate or manatee decal online.

However, in a public hearing previous year and in public comments on the proposal, manatee fans overwhelmingly opposed the change in the listing status.

The foundation has threatened legal action and hopes the Fish and Wildlife Service will adopt the rule change formally in the coming month.

The federal agency is expected to make a decision on the change sometime this year.

The state government and conservation groups worked to revive its population, including setting up no-wake zones to protect the mammals. The focus, according to attorney Christina Martin, should be on saving species that need most to be saved from disappearance.

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