Biologists tallied a record number of manatees this winter, counting more than 6,000 of them scattered around the state of Florida, according to numbers released Monday.
During the February aerial survey, a team of 20 observers from 11 organizations counted 3,333 manatees on Florida's east coast and 2,730 on the west coast, for a total of 6,063. That's nearly 1,000 more than the previous record, set in 2010.
Biologists were particularly relieved about the high count after seeing a record number of manatees killed by cold and by Red Tide toxins in recent years, not to mention the mysterious deaths of more than 100 manatees in polluted Indian River Lagoon.
The statewide manatee death toll in 2013 topped 800 for the first time ever.
Although the manatee population numbers are not considered as accurate as a human census, nevertheless it shows a steady climb in the total population. State officials credited the growth to boating regulations and other measures put in place after a 2001 lawsuit settlement with the Save the Manatee Club and a coalition of other environmental groups.