ST. PETERSBURG, Fla., March 16 (UPI) -- Biologists-turned-manatee-counters with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute recently finished tallying the marine mammals population in the Sunshine State. Published Monday, the results set a new record, with some 6,063 manatees spotted over the last several weeks.
The annual survey is widely criticized by scientists as being largely unreliable. Scientists involved in the survey take the to the air each winter, counting the large mammals as they huddle near springs and power plants where there are pockets of warm water. One scientist told the Tampa Bay Times that process is like "counting popcorn while it pops."
But researchers involved in this year's study say the weather conditions were ideal for securing an especially accurate count.
"In many of the regions surveyed, warm, sunny weather caused manatees to rest at the water's surface, which facilitated our efforts to count them in these areas," state biologist Holly Edwards told reporters. "Calm waters and high visibility also contributed to the high count."
From sea planes, hovering several hundred feet above the ocean surface, researchers counted a total of 3,333 manatees on Florida's east coast and 2,730 on the state's west coast. Some 154 manatees were spotted in Palm Beach County; Miami-Dade County was found to host 389, and in Broward County 665 were counted.
"Counting this many manatees is wonderful news," Richard Corbett, chairman of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said in a statement. "The high count this year shows that our long-term conservation efforts are working."
The recent count is especially good news, given the fact that manatee fatality totals in recent years have been especially high -- most as a result of collisions with boats.
"The high count this year is especially encouraging, given the large-scale mortality events that resulted in over 800 deaths in 2013," added Gil McRae, director of Fish and Wildlife Research Institute.
It's likely that critics of manatee regulations will use the good news as fuel for their efforts to have the animal taken off the endangered species list. The mammal's special protection is responsible for strict low-speed zone regulations in many popular boating areas, as well as rules limiting the construction of docks.