As alerted by other ScienceBloggers, I have recently learned that the US Fish & Wildlife Service is proposing to the White House that Florida’s manatee be removed from the “endangered” list, downgrading the marine mammal to merely “threatened.” The result would be a relaxation of boating speed and access rules that have allowed the manatee population to recover over the last 15 years.
Like Shelley of Retrospectacle and Kevin Beck of Dr. Joan Bushwell’s Chimpanzee Refuge, I spent a few years of my prime years in Florida (evidence of my support of manatee preservation above). I continue to be amazed that the natural features that attract people to Florida are the very same things being attacked by developers and selectively-minded outdoors “enthusiasts.” As most know, boat propellers are the number one threat to the slow-moving sea cows, leading Kevin to comment on a Carl Hiassen column from last summer:
It is equally obvious that it’s not just manatees at risk. Hiaasen in his column noted that out of 396 manatee deaths in 2005, 315 — close to 80% — were the result of causes other than natural ones. The more people who speed along the coasts on Jetskis and in motorboats, the more seacows they’ll hit and the more severe the accidents will be for all involved. I don’t give a shit how many martini-powered half-wits in rented watercraft fly overboard, never to be seen again, but you’d think the many voices of state tourism and local chambers of commerce might.
Shelley used to study manatees while in Florida and notes that the population is not exactly exploding, a mere fraction of the tens of thousands believed to live in the state’s waters a hundred years ago. The first manatee census in 1991, funded partly by the sale of license plates, counted 1,267 animals with last year’s rising to 3,116. This year’s count, however, has them back down to 2,812, possibly already reflecting a result from last summer’s first discussion of the reclassification move.
To learn more about Florida’s famous sea mammal, visit the official site of the Save The Manatee Club.