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Number of manatees increases in 2nd census

Experts say warm weather during the previous census may have skewed the count.

The second manatee census of the new year found a lot more of the endangered marine mammals than the first one last month, according to figures released Wednesday by the Florida Marine Research Institute.

Researchers took to the air and the water Jan. 27 to count manatees along Florida's coastline. They found 2,222 manatees around the state _ 1,091 on the Gulf Coast and 1,131 on the Atlantic Coast, according to the figures from the St. Petersburg-based marine research institute.

The previous count, on Jan. 16-17, found 1,629 manatees, far below the last census of last year, when researchers found 2,353 manatees. The highest number recorded, in a 1996 count, was 2,639.

Most of the year manatees are dispersed in waters around the state. But when the weather turns cool, they seek warmer water, congregating near natural springs, power plants and deep canals. That makes them easier to count from the air.

The weather during the initial census last month was warmer than expected, so experts suspected that census was off. Temperatures were much lower during the count last week.

A total of 268 manatees died in 1999, a record 82 of them killed by watercraft. A coalition of environmental groups last month sued state and federal agencies, accusing them of failing to do enough to save manatees from extinction.