The manatee, or sea cow, has been on the endangered species list for a long time. There has been some talk of changing their actual status to 'threatened' but whatever researchers and scientists choose to call them, the manatees are still in danger. There are many things that can cause problems for manatees because the large and slow-moving animals are not really expecting many of the dangers that they find and they are often injured or killed by the propellers on boats. They do not know enough to get out of the way, and in many cases the danger is already on them before they realize that there is something to be afraid of. It is important to understand what makes the manatee endangered and have a better understanding of what can be done to protect these creatures from humans and other predators.
New standards were adopted by Florida in 1999 are being used to list threatened and endangered species (Walker, 2003). Because of this the manatees' status is being reevaluated and it may be removed from the endangered list. Originally, the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission was going to vote on a decision about the manatee in January 2003 but they put off the vote until later (Walker, 2003). If the manatees are changed to a threatened classification they will not be as much of a concern as they would be if they were endangered but they will still be closely watched. Whether their status becomes threatened or remains endangered is not quite as important as whether they are protected and taken care of.
The United States and the state of Florida both classify the manatee as an endangered species right now and the classification from the government goes back to 1967 (Walker, 2003). Since the new criteria were created in Florida changing the manatee's status will not necessarily mean that the manatee is actually doing any better but those in the Florida Marine Research Institute do think that the last 20 years have shown an improvement in the manatee population (Walker, 2003).
Originally, manatees became endangered because they were hunted extensively for centuries (Jimenez Perez, 26). There are now laws on both state and federal levels that protect the manatees from hunting but there are other problems for the manatee. Some of their habitat is being lost through changes in the environment and construction that is taking place. Most wetlands are protected in Florida and many other states so that these marine mammals do not lose so much of their habitat to a great deal of new building permits and construction. Another problem that the manatees face is collisions from boats and other watercraft. The manatees are very shy and often hide but they also do not move out of the way fast enough if there are marine craft in the area and therefore they can be hit before they or the owner of the watercraft realizes what is going on and tries to avoid it.
The manatee does have some protection from this because there are many areas that are restricted when it comes to boating and other watercraft and speed limits have been posted in many other areas that watercraft have to obey (Walker, 2003). Even if the species gets a downgrade to threatened from endangered those protections will still be in place. Some people have voiced a lot of concern about the potential for downgrading the manatee to threatened. It is believed that this might make the public feel that the manatee is doing very well and because of this the manatees might receive a lesser degree of protection in the future (Walker, 2003). This would be dangerous because manatees have not really made a strong comeback and there are still very few of them left. Even though the population to the manatee appears to be growing just a little bit, the actual state of the manatee has not changed enough to make those that work to protect it feel safe and comfortable.
When manatees were originally seen many years ago by Christopher Columbus the sailors on his ship thought that they had seen mermaids (Walker, 2003). These were actually West Indian manatees and they ranged all of the way from the southern part of the United States to the Caribbean and to the northern coast of South America (Walker, 2003). In Florida, there is a separate subspecies of manatee that lives in salt bays, shallow rivers, canals, and along the immediate coastline looking for aquatic plants to eat (Walker, 2003). An adult manatee weighs approximately 1000 pounds and eat 15% of their body weight each and every day (Walker, 2003). Manatees are very relaxed and are often termed as 'laid back' animals. They are not dangerous to humans and there is no reason for anyone to be afraid of them, but because they are slow moving and shy, many people hunt them and hurt them.
Another danger to manatees is that they get cold very easily and they have a hard time warming up well. If the water drops below 68 degrees they start to suffer stress and they get bumps that look like warts on their faces (White, Pinto, & Robison, 210). They also have skin problems that are similar to frostbite and if they stay cold for too long then they will die (White, Pinto, & Robison, 210). Manatees often seek warmer waters as much as they can and they like the Florida coast because the water stays between 68 and 72 degrees during the winter (White, Pinto, & Robison, 210). Manatees also go into some of the inland channels because many of the power plants in those areas discharge warm water into these channels and this makes the manatees feel more comfortable (Walker, 2003) Naturally in the summer the water is much warmer and the manatees enjoy this very much.
Unfortunately, the search that manatees undertake to look for warmer waters brings them in contact with many individuals that are boating for recreational purposes. In 2002 there were 95 deaths of manatees caused by collisions with watercraft which set a new record for the most manatees killed in a season (White, Pinto, & Robison, 210). Manatees can be killed on impact if they run into boats and many of the propellers of boats leave deep wounds. Sometimes these are fatal but manatees can also heal and only be left with deep scars. Many manatees that are seen in the wild have these large white scars across their backs where boat propellers have struck them. Manatees can only move between three and five miles per hour and when boats are moving much faster than this manatees may not have time to escape even if they realize that danger is coming (White, Pinto, & Robison, 210).
Even manatees that are moving as fast as they absolutely can are only able to achieve approximately 20 miles per hour and there are many powerboats available today that can travel much faster than 100 miles per hour, leaving manatees very little chance to escape (White, Pinto, & Robison, 210). One of the best ways to protect these endangered creatures is to slow down boats and cordon off areas where manatees are known to congregate. Even though this will not stop all of the deaths from powerboats it will help to reduce the number of these deaths and allow for a larger manatee population.
When manatees were counted across Florida in the year 2001 only a little over 3000 were seen (Manatee, 2004). This was one of the highest aerial counts that was ever conducted but even then 3000 is not a large number for a species that is endangered. One gentleman likened it to having only $3,000 in the bank as an entire life savings (Manatee, 2004). Without any other money coming in $3,000 will not last a long time and without increases in the manatee population and a reduction in the death rate 3000 manatees will not last a long time either (Manatee, 2004). Manatees will not disappear tomorrow but without more effective measures to protect them it appears that their days may be numbered and this is very sad because manatees are gentle and harmless creatures that pose no threat to humans or the environment.
In 2003, 380 manatees died (Manatee, 2004). Not all of these were killed by watercraft or human beings. Sometimes manatees simply die of natural causes when they get old enough, some female manatees can died in childbirth, and sometimes manatees get stuck in floodgates and other man-made items that can cause them serious injuries or death (Manatee, 2004). If the birth rate for manatees does not keep pace with the number of manatees that are passing away each year than the population of these creatures will continue to decrease. Natural diseases or epidemics can also cause problems for endangered species. For manatees, this came in 1996 and again in 2003 when there were outbreaks of…