April 12, 2017
Florida's iconic manatee population is highly likely to endure for the next 100 years, so long as wildlife managers continue to protect the marine mammals and their habitat, a new study by the US Geological Survey and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute has found.
The study, conducted by a team of veteran manatee scientists, estimated there is less than a one-half of one percent chance that either Florida's Atlantic or its Gulf of Mexico manatee population could fall to as few as 500 adults - the level that could imperil Florida manatees' long-term survival.
"Today the Florida manatees' numbers are high. Adult manatees' longevity is good, and the state has available habitat to support a population that is continuing to grow," said USGS research ecologist Michael C. Runge, lead author of the USGS report, "Status and Threats Analysis for the Florida Manatee (Trichechus manatus latirostris), 2016," published today.
"Still, new threats could emerge, or existing threats could interact in unexpected ways," Runge said. "Managers need to remain vigilant to keep manatee populations viable over the long haul."
Florida's manatee population is likely to gradually double over the next 50 years and then level off, the research team concluded. Over time, environmental and habitat changes will probably cause manatees to become less abundant in South Florida and more numerous in North Florida, but the population as a whole will remain high.
The Florida manatee is a subspecies of the West Indian manatee, one of the first creatures listed as endangered when the federal Endangered Species Act went into effect in 1973. In the mid-1970s only about 1,000 individuals survived in Florida. But over the last 40 years, boat speed regulations, habitat protection and other measures have helped the population rebound. The most recent count, in early 2017, tallied 6,620 manatees in Florida waters.