Manatees may soon lose endangered species status

Before you go, we thought you'd like these...

38 PHOTOS
Manatees are cool
See Gallery
Manatees may soon lose endangered species status
PARIS, FRANCE - APRIL 08: Tinus, the manatee, at the Zoological Park of Paris on April 8, 2014 in Paris, France. After 6 years of closing time and a complete â?¬ 167-million renovation, the Zoo will reopen its doors to visitors on April 12, 2014. The new park offers a journey through five biozones: Patagonia, Sahel, Sudan, Europe, Guyana and Madagascar on 14.5 hectares. (Photo by Lucas Schifres/Getty Images)
A Manatee in the Crystal River, Florida. (Photo via Getty)
PARIS, FRANCE - APRIL 08: A visitor takes photos of Tinus, the manatee, at the Zoological Park of Paris on April 8, 2014 in Paris, France. After 6 years of closing time and a complete â?¬ 167-million renovation, the Zoo will reopen its doors to visitors on April 12, 2014. The new park offers a journey through five biozones: Patagonia, Sahel, Sudan, Europe, Guyana and Madagascar on 14.5 hectares. (Photo by Lucas Schifres/Getty Images)
In this photo taken Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2014, manatee Phoenix's disfigured tail, damaged by a boat propeller is shown at the Miami Seaquarium in Key Biscayne, Fla. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is reviewing whether the manatee should be reclassified as a “threatened” species, which would allow some flexibility for federal officials as the species recovers while maintaining most of the protections afforded to animals listed as endangered. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
A photo taken on July 19, 2014 shows Mandilo, a baby manatee which was born on April 24, 2014, swimming at the Zoo Parc of Beauval. Mandilo was rescued and bottle fed by trainers for a month until his mother accepted to breastfeed it. AFP PHOTO / GUILLAUME SOUVANT (Photo credit should read GUILLAUME SOUVANT/AFP/Getty Images)
Mandilo, a baby manatee which was born on April 24, 2014 swims near its mother on July 19, 2014 at the Zoo Parc of Beauval. Mandilo was rescued and bottle fed by trainers for a month until his mother accepted to breastfeed it. AFP PHOTO / GUILLAUME SOUVANT (Photo credit should read GUILLAUME SOUVANT/AFP/Getty Images)
Mandilo, a baby manatee which was born on April 24, 2014 swims near its mother on July 19, 2014 at the Zoo Parc of Beauval. Mandilo was rescued and bottle fed by trainers for a month until his mother accepted to breastfeed it. AFP PHOTO / GUILLAUME SOUVANT (Photo credit should read GUILLAUME SOUVANT/AFP/Getty Images)
Mandilo, a baby manatee which was born on April 24, 2014 swims near its mother on July 19, 2014 at the Zoo Parc of Beauval. Mandilo was rescued and bottle fed by trainers for a month until his mother accepted to breastfeed it. AFP PHOTO / GUILLAUME SOUVANT (Photo credit should read GUILLAUME SOUVANT/AFP/Getty Images)
SINGAPORE - MAY 25: Author and television presenter of River Monsters series, Jeremy Wade (L) feeds the manatees during the Jeremy Wade's exclusive showcase at River Safari on May 25, 2014 in Singapore (Photo by Suhaimi Abdullah/Getty Images)
Mandilo, a baby manatee which was born on April 24, 2014 suckles its mother on July 19, 2014 at the Zoo Parc of Beauval. Mandilo was rescued and bottle fed by trainers for a month until his mother accepted to breastfeed it. AFP PHOTO / GUILLAUME SOUVANT (Photo credit should read GUILLAUME SOUVANT/AFP/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - APRIL 08: A general view of a manatee in the Guyana biozone at the Zoological Park of Paris on April 8, 2014 in Paris, France. After 6 years of closing time and a complete renovation, the Zoo will reopen its doors to visitors on April 12, 2014. The new park offers a journey through five biozones Patagonia, Sahel, Sudan, Europe, Guyana and Madagascar on 14.5 hectares and 4 km journey. (Photo by Bertrand Rindoff Petroff/Getty Images)
Three young manatees embrace underwater in the warm waters of Blue Spring Friday, January 25, 2013, a day before Orange City Blue Spring Manatee Festival takes place this weekend. The annual festival is held at Valentine Park and buses will transport visitors to Blue Spring Park to view the manatees. Park rangers counted 200 sea cows finding refuge in Blue Spring run. (Red Huber/Orlando Sentinel/MCT via Getty Images)
Lil' Joe, a wayward manatee rescued by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Sea World and Sea to Shore, on Thursday, September 27, 2012, from the Little Econlockhatchee River in Orlando, Florida. It took some sweet talk, affectionate chin-scratching and a net to draw Lil Joe out of the river where he had been trapped for weeks and into the care of rescuers, with whom he has spent most of his life. (Red Huber/Orlando Sentinel/MCT via Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY PATRICK FORT Staff at the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) near the Mayumba national park in southern Gabon handle on June 21, 2012 a manatee, a shallow-water herbivorous mammal. The WCS is striving to save the African manatee, which is currently endangered with scientists noting its progressive disappearance from river mouths. A cooperation pact to save the African manatee has been ratified by 15 states as part of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS). AFP PHOTO / Godefroy De Bruine (Photo credit should read Godefroy De Bruine/AFP/Getty Images)
A manatee looks to be posing for camera as manatees take refuge, Wednesday, January 4, 2012, in the warmer waters of Blue Spring in Orange City, Florida. Blue Spring State Park rangers counted 293 manatees, the highest for this winter season. (Red Huber/Orlando Sentinel/MCT via Getty Images)
MIAMI BEACH, FL - OCTOBER 26: A young male manatee swims near a dead female manatee on October 26, 2011 in Miami Beach, Florida. Dr. Maya Rodriguez from Miami Seaquarium's Veterinarian department, who was on scene, said that, 'the dead manatee had attracted a pod of juvenile male manatees who were trying to mate with her, which is not all that uncommon'. Florida Fish and Wildlife along with Miami Seaquariums veterinarian and other officials were planning on examining the female manatee further to determine a cause of death. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
CRYSTAL RIVER, FL - UNDATED: EXCLUSIVE. A Florida manatee yawns in the early morning under a floating pontoon. Hunter Spring, Crystal River, Florida.For the uninitiated, coming face to face with one of these enormous underwater mammals might be some cause for concern. However, the likelihood is the rotund creature just wants you to do scratch its belly while it floats around in bliss ' as world-renowned underwater photographer Alex Mustard discovered. Manatees live life at a slow pace, so when you swim with them you are forced to chill down to their speed,' explained the 36-year-old from Hampshire. 'They¿re just floating about in a sort of zen state. Then, when they come up to you and want you to scratch them, it is so exciting ' you get a real connection.' Alex travelled to the west coast of Florida, close to Crystal River city, where the animals congregate in the winter. Here, several freshwater springs attract the manatees when their normal ocean habitat becomes too cold. (Photo by Alexander Mustard / Barcroft Med / Getty Images)
A manatee comes to the surface for air at Blue Spring State Park in Orange City, Florida, Thursday, January 14, 2010. Park service specialist Wayne Hartley found 217 manatees during a two-day survey. (Photo by Red Huber/Orlando Sentinel/MCT via Getty Images)
HOMESTEAD, FL - MAY 15: Florida Governor Charlie Crist (R) helps members of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the United States Geological Survey, the Miami Seaquarium and other organizations as they released Patsy the Manatee back into the wild on May 15, 2009 in Homestead, Florida. The Manatee was released after Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission biologists and volunteers from the Dolphin Research Center rescued her on April 29, 2009, after discovering her flipper had become severely entangled in monofilament fishing line. During her treatment and rehabilitation, veterinarians determined Patsy was pregnant and likely to give birth this summer. The veterinarians cleared her for release so she can continue to heal on her own and deliver her calf in the wild. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JANUARY 14: A woman encounters a Florida manatee, Trichechus manatus latirostris. Crystal River, Florida. (Photo by Brian Skerry/National Geographic/Getty Images)
A manatee swims near Wayne Hartley's canoe. Hartley, park ranger at Blue Spring State Park in Orange City, Florida, has tracked the manatees for the past 27 years, and provided invaluable information for manatee researchers. (Photo by Barbara V. Perez/Orlando Sentinel/MCT via Getty Images)
Sparky, a rescued manatee, is seen January 13, 2006, at the Miami Seaquarium in Miami, Florida. The seaquarium is one of four places that rescued manatees are brought to recover from their wounds. (Photo by Peter Andrew Bosch/Miami Herald/MCT via Getty Images)
(FILE) Picture taken at the Singapore Zoo, on March 11, 2003 of a newborn Manatee swimming with the help of its mother, Eva, hours after being born. Guatemalan environmentalists found on August 14, 2008 in Izabal, some 350km northeast of Guatemala City, a dead manatee -a species in danger of extinction, of which there are only about 40 specimens in the Caribbean coast- allegedly killed by hunters who would then sell its meat. AFP PHOTO/STRAITS TIMES (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 09: Front view of manatee, head and back layered with barnacle-like crust, Florida (Photo by James A. Sugar/National Geographic/Getty Images)
In this photo taken Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2014, a manatee comes up for a breath of air at the Miami Seaquarium in Key Biscayne, Fla. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is reviewing whether the manatee should be reclassified as a “threatened” species, which would allow some flexibility for federal officials as the species recovers while maintaining most of the protections afforded to animals listed as endangered. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
In this photo taken Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2014, manatee Juliet feeds at the Miami Seaquarium in Key Biscayne, Fla. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is reviewing whether the manatee should be reclassified as a “threatened” species, which would allow some flexibility for federal officials as the species recovers while maintaining most of the protections afforded to animals listed as endangered. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
This Sept. 5, 2012 photo shows Serena, a dugong at the Toba Aquarium in Toba, Japan. Dugongs, a sea mammal related to the manatee, are rare in captivity. The aquarium gift shop sells stuffed dugongs and dugong cookies. (AP Photo/Linda Lombardi)
In this photograph taken with a GoPro camera, a manatee swims in the Palm Beach Inlet off Peanut Island, Tuesday, March 5, 2012, in Riviera Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Manatees congregate in a canal where discharge from a nearby Florida Power & Light plant warms the water in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Tuesday, Dec. 28, 2010. Overnight temperatures in South Florida were in the 30s. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
** FILE **A Manatee swims at Blue Springs State Park in Orange City, Fla., in this Thursday, Jan. 5, 2006 file photo. Wildlife officials will consider moving the manatee off Florida's endangered species list Wednesday and reclassify it in the lower category of threatened. (AP Photo/John Raoux, File)
A Manatee swims in the 72-degree water at Blue Springs State Park in Orange City, Fla., on Thursday, Jan. 5, 2006. The last year has been a hard one for the state's endangered manatee population. The number of confirmed manatee deaths increased 30 percent in 2005. The largest known cause of death is collisions with boats.(AP Photo/John Raoux)
Manatees play in the waters of Homosassa Springs, July 11, 2003, in Homosassa Springs, Fla. University of Florida researchers are working with manatees in Homosassa Springs in an effort to develop technology that will warn boaters when manatees are in the water around them. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Florida manatee mother and calf take breath from water's surface at same moment. (Photo by Carol Grant via Getty)
On one of the coldest Florida winter days in history, a young male Florida manatee calf floats and enjoys the warmth over a blue freshwater spring outflow, with an atlantic needlefish at his side. (Photo by Carol Grant via Getty)
Manatee. Florida Manatee.Three Sisters Springs. 3 Sisters Springs.Crystal River. Florida. United States .Trichechus manatus latirostrus .Order:SireniaFamily:Trichechidae (Photo by Sylvain Cordier via Getty)
Florida Manatee looking directly at camera, close-up, nose above water surface (Photo by Clark Wheeler via Getty)
Manatees at rest on the bottom of the Crystal River. (Photo by Stephen Frink via Getty)
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE
SHOW CAPTION +
HIDE CAPTION

By JENNIFER KAY

MIAMI (AP) - As they do whenever they visit Florida, Greg Groff and his young daughter stopped by the manatee pool at Miami Seaquarium, where the speed bump-shaped marine mammals placidly swim in circles.

They noted the pink scars and disfigured tail on one manatee, damage from a boat propeller that left it unable to survive in the wild.

Florida's manatees need even more stringent protections than their listing on the federal endangered species list, Groff said, adding that boaters should go elsewhere if they don't like speed limits in waters where manatees swim.

"There's plenty of places they can go faster," the Chicago man said. "They can go out in the middle of the ocean if they want to go much, much, much quicker, and you won't have to worry about them running the manatees over."

Groff's comments are representative of the environmentalist and general public side of an ongoing fight with a group of boaters, businesses and conservatives over whether the manatee should retain its 1967 federal listing as an endangered species, the most protective classification.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is reviewing whether the manatee should be reclassified as a "threatened" species, which would allow some flexibility for federal officials as the species recovers while maintaining most of the protections afforded to animals listed as endangered.

As part of the lengthy review process, the agency is seeking public comment on its finding that a petition to reclassify the manatee has merits. The deadline is Tuesday. A decision on whether a change is warranted won't be made until the agency completes its review, which could take a year.

Manatees, also known as sea cows, are vegetarian giants that average nearly 10 feet long and 2,200 pounds and live near the shore and in coastal waterways around much of Florida. The animal's biggest threats are boats, cold water, toxic algae blooms and fishing debris like discarded lines and ropes.

"If we come to the end of this and decide reclassification is warranted, it's good news because it means the manatee is recovering and no longer on the brink of extinction," agency spokesman Chuck Underwood said.

Critics of the manatee's current endangered listing say manatees are important to the state's tourism industry and environment, so everyone wants them to thrive, but the species has recovered sufficiently over the last 47 years to be reclassified. Florida's manatee population has grown from several hundred in 1967 to over 4,800 in this year. Under current regulations, boaters must avoid manatee areas or obey tight speed limits and fishermen can't use some equipment.

Save Crystal River Inc. and the conservative Pacific Legal Foundation petitioned the government in 2012 to reclassify the manatee, citing a 2007 federal review that recommended listing the species as threatened since the population is recovering. They say if the federal government followed its own rules, the reclassification should be automatic.

"The truth is the manatee is protected the same as threatened as endangered, but they no longer can use the species to take over sovereign lands and sovereign waters with arbitrary rules," said Steve Lamb, vice president of Save Crystal River, a group that represents about 100 members that include recreational boaters, tour operators, dive shops and hotels. The river, about 80 miles north of Tampa on Florida's Gulf Coast, is warmed by natural springs and is a favorite winter congregating spot for manatees.

According to the wildlife service, officials began working on the reclassification proposal in 2013, but those efforts were suspended amid funding constraints, the U.S. government shutdown and concerns over recent spikes in manatee deaths, particularly during cold snaps. A record 829 manatees died last year, breaking the 2010 record of 766, according to state records.

The most worrisome deaths last year were not collisions with boats. A record 276 manatee deaths were caused by a toxic red tide bloom in the Gulf of Mexico. There were also the unexplained deaths of more than 100 manatees on Florida's east coast, where pollution and algae blooms have plagued a vital lagoon ecosystem.

Save the Manatees Club Executive Director Pat Rose said that while the species has certainly rebounded, the jump in deaths, particularly during cold snaps, means more work is needed before they lose endangered status.

"The most compelling reason not to down-list them is the status of their ecosystems," Rose said. "If you maintain good quality habitat, you can overcome catastrophic mortality events. If you are dealing with both catastrophic mortality events and unrelenting compromises to their aquatic ecosystems at the same time, that's when you need to be acting very conservatively."

But Lamb says the government is bowing to political pressure and emotion, highlighting conservation efforts at the expense of the law and business.

"Does anyone ever want to talk about how last year 1,000 manatees were born? Heck, no. All they want to talk about is how many died," Lamb said.

The vast majority of comments submitted to the wildlife service plead with officials to continue listing the manatee as endangered. Florida residents cite the manatees they've seen with scars from run-ins with boats or fishing debris, while out-of-state commenters describe the thrill of spotting the unique marine mammals in the water.

Some say the manatee should be protected as a symbol, not just as an animal.

"In a world filled with war, deadly viruses, and everyday violence ... the gentle manatee offers a vision of peaceful existence all would like to possess," wrote one commenter.

More on AOL
Suds, faith found at California laundromat
Abercrombie name to shrink from clothing
USDA seizes more than 1,200 illegal giant snails

Read Full Story

People are Reading