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Keywords:

  • manatee;
  • Trichechus manatus latirostris;
  • aerial videogrammetry;
  • lifestage structure

Abstract

Aerial videogrammetry from an airship tethered to a boat was used to assess the life-stage structure of manatees in the Blue Waters area of the Homosassa River on the west coast of central Florida. Individual frames of videos were loaded onto a computer and lengths of manatees measured using graphics software. All images of manatees were measured independently by three observers. Measurements were transformed to total manatee lengths by calculating the ratio between the measurements of a reference object of known length and the measurement of the manatee. Length estimates were highly variable but were unbiased with respect to observer. Results of an analysis of variance suggested that the hypothesis that lengths differed among days and among observers should not be rejected. Life-stage structures were represented in three schemes. One scheme-which included four life stages: dependent calves, juveniles, animals in tramsition between juvenile and adult, and adults-was included to provide the most information without sacrificing confidence in the life-stage distribution. Overall, the video system was effective at capturing images of manatees for life-stage characterization and, with improvements in image resolution, could become a valuable tool for photo-identification in sight-resight experiments.