ST. PETERSBURG, Fla., Feb. 23 (UPI) -- Florida's latest manatee population census shows there are about 3,116 manatees in the state -- the fourth-highest total since surveys began in 1991.
Earlier this month, a team of 18 observers from nine state agencies conducted the air and ground census.
Scientists caution, however, such surveys can't be used as statements of manatee populations or to calculate population trends, the Fort Myers (Fla.) News-Press reported Thursday. Instead, they say the surveys should be viewed as simply the number of manatees observers were able to count during the study.
"Because we don't know how many animals we didn't see, we can't compare the surveys over time," Holly Edwards, a research scientist at the St. Petersburg-based Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, told the News-Press. "The surveys themselves have changed. We've perfected the way we do them. We're better at it"
Therefore, she said, people cannot look at the 1991 count of 1,267 and this year's count of 3,116 and say the population has grown by nearly 60 percent.