Record 6,063 manatees counted in Florida


The state counted a record number of manatees swimming in Florida waters during a recent aerial survey.

Biologists with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission documented 6,063 sea cows – 2,730 on the west coast and 3,333 on the east coast.

"Manatees used warm-water sites and other winter habitat areas to cope with a strong cold front that recently moved through the region," said FWC biologist Holly Edwards in a statement. "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. Calm waters and high visibility also contributed to the high count."

The previous record, set in 2010, accounted for 5,077 manatees.

Manatees are warm-water marine mammals that are more susceptible to illness when water temperatures drop below 68 degrees. During winter months, when water temperatures can sometimes dip into the 50s, manatees seek refuge in smaller rivers and creeks — which stay several degrees warmer, on average, than coastal waters that are more exposed to cold winds and fronts.

Spots like Manatee Park on the Orange River near Interstate 75 are magnets for wintering manatees as a Florida Power & Light plant discharges warm water into the river. Hundreds can sometimes be seen swimming and resting in the man-made refuge.

Warmer conditions in the spring send sea cows back to the coast, where they feed, socialize and roam bays and beaches. Water temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico have risen to 73 degrees off the north end of Fort Myers Beach, according to the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation.

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