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Wildlife officials: Watch out for mating manatees

Numbers are increasing, but marine mammal is still endangered species

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Anyone out on the river recently might have noticed a lot of action in the water.

Wildlife officials say manatees are making their way back to Jacksonville because of the warmer water -- but that's not the only reason.

Officials at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said they've been getting a lot of concerned calls.

"The call we usually get is, 'There's a mom manatee, and all the babies are trying to save it,' but in actuality, the large female can have up to 20-something males trying to breed the one female," said Nadia Gordon, marine mammal biologist from the FWC.

A video taken in San Marco over the weekend show what the callers are concerned about. It's actually a manatee mating herd (pictured).

The average size of a sea cow is 9 to 10 feet and 1,000 pounds. That's equivalent to the size and weight of a golf cart.

Although the mammals seem big enough to take out a boat, they're an endangered species. Organizations like FWC and the Sea to Shore Alliance use tags to track their behavior.

"We can potentially get photos for photo ID, and usually, the scars are what we use to identify the manatees, and then in many cases, we can just make sure all the manatees are doing OK," Gordon said.

According to the Sea to Shore Alliance, during an aerial study this year, about 6,000 manatees were spotted in Florida waters, up from nearly 5,000 in 2011.

Officials credit the rising population to increased manatee zone enforcement and migration studies. FWC officials said boaters will see an increased number of manatees in the area and asked that they just be left alone.

"Please stay back. Don't approach the animals," Gordon said. "Give them their space and just watch their behavior."

If anyone spots a tagged, injured or mating manatee, wildlife officials want to know about it and ask you to call the FWC hotline at 1-888-404-FWCC (3922)?.

They said calls can provide additional information about how many manatees are in the area, which direction they're traveling and how they're behaving.