Biologists with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) reported a preliminary count of 4,840 manatees statewide during the annual synoptic survey. The survey took place Jan. 20 and Jan. 24.
A team of 20 observers from 11 organizations counted 2,438 manatees on Florida’s East Coast and 2,402 on the West Coast of the state. The final numbers will be available at the end of February, following verification of the survey data.
In aerial manatee surveys, ideal conditions occur during a warming trend following a prolonged period of cold weather, when manatees gather around warm-water sites.
“Although weather conditions were not as cold as last year, we had excellent conditions leading up to, and during this year’s survey,” said FWC manatee biologist Holly Edwards.
The goal of the synoptic survey is to count as many manatees as possible. The survey results provide researchers with a minimum number of manatees in Florida waters at the time of the survey and are not considered a population estimate. Because the number of manatees that were not visible during the survey is unknown, these counts cannot be used to determine long-term population trends.
“The relatively high counts this year are encouraging, given the extremely high number of manatees that died from cold stress in 2010,” said Gil McRae, director of the FWC’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute.
Over the next few years, the FWC will rely on monitoring programs to better understand long-term implications from these cold-related deaths.
Researchers have been conducting synoptic surveys since 1991, weather permitting, to meet the state’s requirement for an annual count of manatees in Florida waters.