The 392 manatee deaths in Southwest Florida in 2012 are just 51 percent of the record 766 recorded during the 100-year record cold Florida winter of 2010.
But it's still not great cause for celebration, said Katie Tripp, director of science and conservation for the Save the Manatee Club.
"Everything's relative," Tripp said. "Manatees had a better year than the last couple of years, which were horrible. 2010 was double the usual number and last year manatee deaths were back down to average number of catastrophes."
An estimated 90 percent of all Florida manatees have scars from boat strikes.
Boat strikes continue to scar manatee ranks with 81 deaths and an unknown number of injuries inflicted last year, according to the Florida Wildlife Commission.
Seasonal manatee protection zones are effect in Lee and Sarasota counties and elsewhere along the Florida coasts. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission cautions boaters to slow down and watch out for manatees.
"Boaters should slow down where manatees like to congregate such as seagrass beds and warm-water sites," said Kipp Frohlich, FWC imperiled species management head.
Report sick, distressed, injured, orphaned or entangled manatees to the FWC hotline at (888) 404-FWCC (3922).
Seasonal manatee restrictions
Nov. 15-March 31
No entry in discharge and intake canals of the Florida Power & Light Tice Power Plant
Idle speed and slow speed in portions of the Intracoastal Waterway channel on the Caloosahatchee River near Tice Power Plant
25 mph limit on portions of Estero Bay, Hurricane Bay, Hell Peckney Bay and Hendry Creek
Unregulated: Cayo Costa, North Captiva, Captiva and St. James City areas
No entry on portion of Salt Creek and Warm Mineral Springs north of U.S. 41
Boaters should look for manatees signs such as repetitive swirl patterns called a manatee footprint, a mud trail or a snout or fluke (tail) breaking the water's surface.
Other steps personal watercraft operators can take:
n keep vessels in marked channels;
n wear polarized sunglasses to improve your vision;
n obey posted boat speed zones;
n use poles, paddles or trolling motors when close to manatees; and
n have someone help scan the water when under way.
As more locks are installed, manatees find their migration process impeded and blocked - sometimes fatally.
"Manatees are still trying to live in this state that we keep altering and changing,' Tripp said. "They can't just swim from one side of the state to another with all these locks."
Red tide is also exacting a manatee price with 32 fatalities.
"Red tide still remains this big year's question mark," Tripp said. "That's not going away but it's not an unusual number. Certain years we don't have a bloom and don't have any deaths. In 1996, red tide killed hundreds of manatees, which was a record loss."
Sometimes it's a combination of problems. A manatee rescue in Sanibel Jan. 10 involved a sea cow with red tide symptoms and a boat hit.
Tripp said at least 90 percent of Florida manatees have at least one boat strike hit. Two were found with 50 distinct water-strike scars.
"You see little bitty manatees with scars," Tripp said. "People sort of take it for granted. They see manatees can endure all this physical trauma."
Around Gasparilla Island, manatees can easily be found during the summer months and during the winter the island is on migration path to Warm Mineral Springs.
'You're a thoroughfare for sure," Tripp said waters surrounding Gasparilla Island.
Roughly half of the 4,800 manatees in the state live along the Southewst Florida Gulf Coast. Gulf coast. Half of them spend at least some of their time in SW FL.
Tripp said there is an even more gruesome threat than habitat loss, red tide and boat strikes. Freshwater springs or canals adjacent to power plant outflows are big manatee magnets.
Adult manatees weigh 1,000 pounds or more but are susceptible to cold despite the blubber overcoat. Water temperatures 68 degrees or below can produce cold stress and even death.
"Natural habitat is the best defense they have," she said. "Seventy percent of manatees use power plants to survive the winter because of the warm water they create. It's scary. If even one (power plant) went off line you could have hundreds or even thousands of manatees die.
"We've got a ways to go to save them."