Science and Journalism in Society

Brandeis University JOUR 130B

Manatees are no longer endangered, but our work is not done yet

Good news for aquatic bovine enthusiasts everywhere! The US Fish and Wildlife Service has recently proposed that the West Indian manatee be removed from the endangered species list, thanks to a significant rebound in the species’ population.

Native to the waters of Florida and the Caribbean, these gentle herbivores, popularly known as “sea cows”, have been protected by the Endangered Species Act since the law’s inception, and were among the first species ever categorized as endangered by the US government. The suggested reclassification follows reports of a 500% increase in the species’ numbers since population surveys began in 1991: a substantial recovery, attributed to the hunting bans, habitat protection efforts, and boating speed limits which were established to protect the slow-moving marine mammal (FWS, 2016). The manatee’s rank will be officially downsized to “Threatened” on April 8th, 2016, with the Fish and Wildlife Service allowing 90 days for any interested parties to debate the decision, but citing a “very low percentage chance of [the species] going extinct in the next 100 years” (FWS, 2016).

While this encouraging news certainly indicates that previous conservation efforts have been fruitful, it should not be mistaken for any final victory in the long-standing struggle to protect the West Indian manatee. The creature is still listed as “Vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, a title denoting species that are “likely to become endangered unless the circumstances threatening [their] survival and reproduction improve” or which are “considered to be facing a high risk of extinction in the wild” (IUCN, 2000). Likewise, the Fish and Wildlife Service has not recommended that the regulations currently in place to protect the West Indian manatee be reversed in the wake of its recent reclassification.

The conservation of a species is a continuous undertaking, not a final destination. With this in mind, the Fish and Wildlife Service’s promising news should not be interpreted as grounds to abandon the efforts which have allowed for the partial resurgence of this long-imperiled species, in the first place. But in light of this inspiring development, and with our continued support, perhaps the West Indian manatee may once again achieve the safety and stability it once enjoyed in its native ranges.





FWS 2016. Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; 12-Month Finding on a Petition To Downlist the West Indian Manatee, and Proposed Rule To Reclassify the West Indian Manatee as Threatened. Federal Register 81 (5) 1000 – 1026. Retrieved from <> on January 25th, 2016.

FWS 2016. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to Reclassify West Indian Manatee from Endangered to Threatened. Press Release, January 7th 2016. Retrieved from <> on January 25th, 2016.

IUCN 2000. IUCN RED LIST CATEGORIES AND CRITERIA: Version 3.1 Second edition.  Retrieved from <> on January 25th, 2016.

1 Comment

  1. This is a well written piece, true to journalistic structure and full of concisely stated figures and context. I could see this online at any number of science news sites and blogs. Well done!

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