How Now Sea Cow?

West Indian manatee.

A curious West Indian manatee. [Image: thedodo.com/]

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service announced a proposal earlier this month centered on the idea of upgrading the presently endangered West Indian manatee’s (or sea cow) status from endangered to threatened. For background, the designation of “endangered” means that, without management, a species is on the slippery slope toward extinction, while “threatened” means that a species’ habitat and population are sustainable but don’t do a great job of promoting the animal’s collective proliferation (aka the species is in danger of becoming endangered). As such, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife motion is a reflection of the manatee’s “significant improvement” in population sustainability and habitat strength and has many leaping for joy. Though there has been some wariness to temper the excitement and applause as well.

The West Indian manatee has been a gentle, rotund protectee of the Federal Endangered Species Act since the act was signed in 1973, though manatees have been federally recognized as an endangered species since the 1960s. At the time the ESA came about, the manatee’s population had dwindled down to an estimated 700 because of factors like boat-related deaths and destruction of habitat, among other things. Today, with the estimate grown to over 6,000 individuals, the species seems headed in the right direction in terms of its stability. That’s genuine cause for celebration across the board, but some groups concerned with manatee conservation are focused on what might happen if the species doesn’t get the protection that comes with the “endangered” status as well as the looming problems associated with an environmental phenomenon called red tide.

Manatee eating.

Manatee enjoying a snack. [Image: imgur.com/]

An example of this quandary is playing out at present in Brevard County, Florida, one of the counties where many manatees live, and coincidentally, an area with one of the highest rates of manatee mortality in the state. The county commissioners approved a resolution to ask Florida wildlife leaders to conduct research on how effective boat speed restrictions are at protecting the manatees that inhabit the county’s waterways. Conversely, Katie Tripp, a leader in the Save the Manatee Club, feels that the relatively high number of boat-related injuries and fatalities among manatees in Brevard County will only increase if the speed restrictions vanish. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife proposal is open for public comment until April 7, 2016.

Manatee.

As anthropomorphic as it is round, this manatee is definitely emoting what you think it’s emoting. [Image: wikipedia.com/]

If you want to enjoy the manatee in its element, there are plenty of ways to do so! One especially great way to see some adorable, sea grass-chomping examples of the order Sirenia, is to download the Official Guide for Florida State Parks & Beaches app powered by Pocket Ranger® and to also make your way to any of the state parks on this map!

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