Manatees, the beloved Florida creatures, are seeing a population uptick. The marine mammal will likely endure for the next 100 years, says a team of veteran manatee scientists at the US Geological Survey and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute.
The study‘s scientists came to the conclusion after discovering current manatee populations are high, adult manatee longevity is good, and Florida has available habitat to support the marine mammals’ growing population,.
Manatees survival success in Florida is due to a number of wildlife protections issued over the years.
General hunting protections were first issued in the 1800s. Then, in the 1950s, power plant construction produced warm-water effluent winter habitat for manatees. The Endangered Species Act of 1973 added other protections, such as boat speed zones. And recently, a manatee rescue and rehabilitation program helps find and treat injured manatees.
“I don’t think we can identify the exact individual contribution of all of these programs, but the overall result has been good for the Florida manatee population,” says Michael C. Runge, Ph.D. and research ecologist at the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center.
Although the manatee population appears safe, scientists stress that people and protection organizations need to stay cognizant of new and old threats.
People love manatees and want to see them thrive, but the marine mammals live in shallow waters near the coast people like to visit.
“The current growth and resilience of the manatee population provides a sense of relief that there is not an imminent risk of extinction, but we will need to continue to pay attention to the threats they face,” Runge explains.
Luckily, Runge doesn’t think people will lose interest. There are multiple federal and state laws that protect manatees, and manatees are a visible and important part of the coastal ecosystem in Florida. Citizens care about manatees well-being, Runge says.
Florida manatee population dynamics are better than nearly any other marine mammal. This is partly because manatee data sets are rich—the proximity of manatees to people makes them easier to study.
This ease has helped scientists facilitate new analytical methods. Data collected about manatees are applicable to other marine mammal species.