Record Manatee Count May Mean New Risks For Cuddly ‘Sea Cows’

Years of effort to protect manatees may be paying off, with the latest annual survey showing a record 6,250 of the beloved “sea cows” swimming in Florida waters.

The new tally, which was announced by state officials on Feb. 25, is about 200 higher than last year’s and roughly twice as high as seen in a similar aerial survey conducted a decade ago.

Ironically, however, what sounds like good news for manatees could complicate efforts to conserve the plant-eating marine mammals, which can grow up to 13 feet in length and weigh up to 1,300 pounds.

“The count only means more manatees will be in jeopardy due to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s lack of planning for the future,” Dr. Katie Tripp, director of science and conservation for the Maitland, Florida-based nonprofit Save The Manatee Club, told The Huffington Post.

For decades, manatees have been classified as endangered under the Endangered Species Act of 1973. But facing intense pressure from a conservative group representing property owners along the Gulf Coast, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in January proposed “downlisting” the manatee’s status from endangered (meaning at the brink of extinction now) to threatened (meaning likely to be at the brink in the near future).

The agency says the current designation is no longer warranted and maintains that reclassification wouldn’t change existing federal protections for manatees.

Tripp said she worries that the new survey will be used to advance the argument for reclassification, which she believes would inevitably make it easier to circumvent existing rules and laws aimed at protecting manatees. These include speed limits that help keep boats from colliding with the slow-moving animals.

She’s not the only conservationist who’s concerned.

Laura Dumais, staff lawyer for the Washington, D.C.-based organization Public Employees —> Read More