Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Manatee's New Status Should Be Celebrated

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Manatee's New Status Should Be Celebrated

Article excerpt

Byline: Quinton White

Last month, our local charismatic megafauna, the Florida manatee, achieved a very significant milestone in recovering from near extinction, when the federal government down-listed the marine mammal from endangered to threatened.

While some are upset that the status of the gentle giant was changed, it really is something to be celebrated. To continue to be listed as endangered, the manatee had to be in imminent danger of extinction. We deserve a collective congratulatory pat on the back for this recovery. It can join the list of animals like eagles, ospreys, redfish and alligators that have seen significant populations rebound after human activities affected their numbers.

The manatee is a large, aquatic mammal that has been part of the Florida ecology for thousands of years. There are actually two subspecies of what we call the West Indian manatee: the Antillean manatee (Trichechus manatus manatus), and the Florida manatee (Trichechus manatus latirostris). Manatees have been called by their nickname "sea cows" because they eat seagrasses and other aquatic plants. They look a little like aquatic cows as they graze on various aquatic vegetation. They have also supposedly been mistaken for mermaids, a connection I never have fully appreciated.

Manatees continue to be protected under the Endangered Species Act and under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. And down-listing their status will not reduce the level of protection afforded this lovable mythical mermaid.

Today, the total population of all manatees throughout their entire range is estimated to be at least 13,000 animals. More than 6,500 are in the Southeast and in Puerto Rico. In 1991, there were an estimated 1,267 manatees reported during the first aerial surveys in Florida. Today we see more than 6,300 in Florida.

This represents a significant increase over the past 25 years. I did a video interview about 30 years ago in which I predicted that the manatee would be extinct in our lifetime. …

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