The gentle giants are back in record numbers.
After years of conservation efforts, the Florida manatee's population has resurged to its highest levels in recent memory with the census finding 6,063 individuals, which is 1,000 more than 2010's census, a considerable leap.
Florida conducts the aerial surveys each year, depending on the weather. Researchers have no way to estimate the number of manatees that aren't visible during the surveys, so the tally is considered a minimum count of Florida's manatee population.
"The high count this year shows that our long-term conservation efforts are working," said Richard Corbett, the commission's chairman.
This year's survey was helped by sunny weather that led manatees to bask at the surface as they crowded into warm waters, said commission biologist Holly Edwards.
A team of 20 observers from 11 organizations counted 3,333 manatees on Florida's east coast and 2,730 on the west coast.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is reviewing whether the manatee population has rebounded enough to be reclassified as a threatened species, instead of endangered.
Critics of current boating and fishing restrictions in waters popular with manatees have petitioned the federal government to upgrade the animals' status, citing a 2007 federal review that found the population was recovering.
Florida's manatee population has grown from several hundred animals in 1967, but conservationists say the speed bump-shaped animals remain vulnerable to collisions with boats, cold snaps, water pollution and algae blooms.
The state reported 371 manatee deaths last year, down from a record of 829 in 2013.
With files from The Associated Press
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