It was a landmark year, good and bad, for Florida manatees.
The endangered mammals suffered the deadliest year on record in 2009 as state wildlife biologists documented 429 fatalities, a mark boosted by a trio of all-time highs for boat strikes (97), newborns (114) and cold stress (56).
The totals, announced by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission on Wednesday, ended a year that started brightly with an annual aerial survey tallying 3,807 manatees, which topped the previous all-time high by 500 animals.
Manatee advocates pointed to the death spike as evidence that the future of the slow-moving sea cows remains precarious, with death rates outpacing population growth in some areas.
``It's very significant,'' said Pat Rose, executive director of the Save The Manatee Club. ``Between the watercraft and the ability for manatees to stay warm in the winter, those are the two greatest risks manatees face.''
FWC Chairman Rodney Barreto believes the rising numbers indicate that seasonal slow-speed zones imposed in areas heavily used by manatees are working.
``I think the herd is as big as it's ever been, and unfortunately, you're going to have more accidents,'' he said.
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