Florida's manatees will be around for at least another century, scientists project

"Today the Florida manatees' numbers are high," said USGS ecologist Michael C. Runge.

By Brooks Hays
Manatees lack a layer of insulating fat, and can die if surrounding water temperatures dip below 70 degrees. Photo by USGS
Manatees lack a layer of insulating fat, and can die if surrounding water temperatures dip below 70 degrees. Photo by USGS

April 13 (UPI) -- The chance that Florida's manatee population will fall below 500 individuals -- and precipitate a collapse -- is roughly zero. According to a team of manatee experts, Florida's iconic sea mammals are certain to persist for another 100 years.

Researchers with the U.S. Geological Survey and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute assessed the health and longevity of Florida's manatee population in a new study published this week.


"Today the Florida manatees' numbers are high," Michael C. Runge, a research ecologist with USGS , said in a news release. "Adult manatees' longevity is good, and the state has available habitat to support a population that is continuing to grow."

"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."

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At latest count, conducted earlier this year, Florida was home to 6,620 manatees. The sea cow's comeback inspired the Interior Department to upgrade the species status from endangered to threatened earlier this year.

Researchers expect the population to double and slowly shift northward over the next 50 years. But challenges will remain. Currently, the species main threats are vehicle collisions and lack of warm water refuges. In the coming decades, scientists expect red tides, a type of toxic algae bloom, to become a greater threat.


But scientists determined that only a drastic rise in the rate of manatee-boat collisions would jeopardize the species' continued recovery.

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"Manatee populations will continue to face threats," Runge said. "But if these threats continue to be managed effectively, manatees will be an integral and iconic part of Florida's coastal ecosystems through the coming century."

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