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Manatees Safe?
By Karen Fanning

A Manatee.
A Manatee.
(Photo: Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
In a controversial move last week, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission voted unanimously to take the manatee off the state's endangered-species list. Environmentalists worry that the move will strip the sea cow of protections that are critical to its survival.

"The world is going to think the manatees are doing a lot better, when they're not," said Patrick Rose, an official with the Save the Manatee Club.

Despite Rose's fears, state officials say that the manatee is no longer eligible for endangered status, which is restricted to animals that are facing extinction. And they insist that the manatee will not lose any of the protections it currently has once it is reclassified as "threatened."

Although the commission's vote took place on June 7, it could take up to a year for the ruling to go into effect. First, commissioners must draft a management plan for the continued recovery of the manatee.

Roughly 3,100 manatees live in Florida's waters today, but some environmentalists predict that the population could shrink by 50 percent over the next 45 years. Because they swim close to the surface, many are killed or wounded by boats each year. Others fall victim to cold weather or red-tide algae, which makes potent natural toxins that poison sea animals.

The manatee's spot on the federal endangered species list appears to be safe for the time being. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is in the process of re-evaluating the mammal's status.

Manatees are herbivores, or plant-eating creatures. They consume up to 15 percent of their body weight each day. Adult manatees are generally about 10 feet long and weigh close to 1,000 pounds.