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Florida manatee count reaches all-time high

Florida biologists counted an all-time-high number of manatees during the annual synoptic survey the week of Jan. 11.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's Fish and Wildlife Research Institute reported a preliminary count of 5,067 manatees statewide.

A team of 21 observers counted 2,779 manatees on Florida's east coast and 2,288 on the west coast. The final numbers will be available at the end of February, following verification of the survey data.

This year's count exceeded the previous high count from 2009 by more than 1,200 animals. The survey conditions were favorable for aerial observations in both years, but were especially favorable this year as a result of the extended period of cold weather.

"This year's high count reflects the influence that weather has on aerial survey results," FWC biologist Holly Edwards said in a statement. "The record-breaking cold temperatures helped to bring many more manatees to the warm-water sites than in previous years. In addition, the calm, clear weather conditions on the days of the survey helped us to see and count record numbers."

The FWC said it is encouraged to have counted so many manatees. The high count is consistent with models that show the manatee population is growing or stable in most areas of the state.

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