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Manatees: Record-Breaking 6,250 Counted During Aerial Surveys In Florida

Feb 26, 2016 12:46 PM EST

Manatees living in waters around Florida have set a new record. Aerial surveys counted some 6,250 manatees, which is about 200 more than last year and the most recorded since surveys started in 1991.

The population survey took place from Feb. 11 to Feb. 13 and was carried out by 16 observers from 11 organizations. A total of 3,292 manatees were counted on Florida's East Coast and 2,958 manatees on the state's West Coast. While this is good news for the threatened animals, conservationists warn the population boom is likely a result of warmer waters, rather than a sign of recovery. 

"A couple of hundred is not enough to say whether there are more manatees," Pat Rose, executive director of the Save the Manatee Club, said in a statement

Manatees, also known as sea cows, have been on the Endangered Species List for more than 40 years due to threats posed by urbanization, water contamination and collisions with boats. Last month, however, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed downgrading the animal's status from endangered to threatened. 

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission conducts aerial surveys annually to provide researchers with an updated population count and information about the animals' distribution and habitat use. 

Florida manatees are part of an estimated 13,000 living in the Caribbean and along the coasts of Colombia, Venezuela and Brazil. Manatees prefer shallow waters, as they come to the surface to breathe about every 15 minutes. These lumbering herbivores can grow up to 13 feet long, weigh up to 1,300 pounds, and live about 40 years.

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