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VIDEO: Manatee deaths by boat decline in Florida

Manatees and boats dodged each other relatively well in South Florida this season, with a total of three of the endangered marine mammals killed by watercraft in Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.

Manatee season officially ended last Wednesday, when slow-speed zones for boats expired. They take effect again Nov. 15. With the warmer weather, the big marine mammals have begun streaming north to the far more abundant seagrass beds of central and northern Florida and southern Georgia.

This season, each county saw a single manatee death from watercraft, according to a report in the [Fort Lauderdale] Sun-Sentinel.

“Considering that for a few months we had hundreds and hundreds of manatees in the county, one watercraft mortality seems to be pretty good,” said Pat Quinn, Broward County’s manatee coordinator. “It indicates boaters are really obeying the speed zones.”

Two years after Florida tallied a record number of manatee deaths, state biologists said they have documented a near stampede of wintering sea cows in recent months, according to the Miami Herald.

An annual statewide survey, conducted over several days in February, counted a record high of 6,063 manatees in Florida waters. That’s about a thousand more manatees than the previous high counted in 2010 and a welcome turn after 2013’s 828 deaths.

“Counting this many manatees is wonderful news,” Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Chairman Richard Corbett said. “The high count this year shows that our long-term conservation efforts are working.”

Last spring, a group of boaters in Crystal River, where manatees drawn by the 72-degree spring-fed water winter by the hundreds, joined forces with the Pacific Legal Foundation to appeal to federal wildlife managers to consider changing the status of manatees from endangered to threatened. The groups say federal officials need to act on a 2007 review that found manatees were rebounding.

If reclassified, the change would represent a big shift. Florida first protected manatees in 1893. The federal government made them one of 78 original species listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1967.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service expects to make a decision later this year, spokesman Chuck Underwood said. Population will be just one of the factors considered, he said, along with the survival rates of adults, habitat and the availability of warm water.