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Date of Issue: February 02, 2006

Sandscript

Manatee listing change promises interesting debate

The struggle over sustainable populations of manatees is scheduled to come to a head later this year.

At issue is a proposal by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission staff to drop "endangered" in describing sea cows in favor of a designation of "threatened." The change in status could clear the way for more lax boating restrictions, particularly related to speed, in some parts of the state.

Proponents of the change in title claim that manatee census counts in the past few years indicate the marine mammals are recovering in numbers. Opponents claim that the boat-related manatee deaths last year - the third-highest in a decade at 80 - indicate that boat speeds should continue to be regulated to protect manatees.

Opponents also state that with Florida currently leading the nation in boat registrations at nearly 980,000, more boats mean more fatal vessel-manatee interactions - fatal to the manatees, that is.

The controversy is scheduled for an FWC meeting in June.

Also set to be included in the discussions is removal of bald eagles from any listing because of a resurgence in the bird's populations since a record low in 1980, and updating gopher tortoises to a "threatened" listing because habitat loss and disease are claiming the slow-moving reptiles.

Good catches

Spotted sea trout are the top catch for recreational fishers in the Gulf of Mexico, according to a new report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

More than 33 million trout were reeled up in 2004 in the Gulf. Other popular fish were scup in the Northeast of the United States, Atlantic croaker in the mid-Atlantic region, spot in the Southeast and barred sandbass in the Pacific.

According to the report, published in the "Marine Scene" by marine extension agent John Stevely, recreational catches have increased by 18 percent in the last 10 years. And here's some good news for the ones that got away - of the 10 most popular recreational fish species caught, 60 percent were released alive.

There were more than 74 million saltwater fishing trips taken in 2004, about the same as the previous year, although the number of outings has increased by about 15 percent in the past 10 years.

Duh?!

This may not be the most scintillating bit of news, or even the most surprising, but a team of researchers from Massachusetts and Ontario have discovered that women like men who make them laugh, and men like women who laugh at their jokes.

According to a study, published in the journal "Nature," the research team asked more than 200 male and female college students to examine photos of members of the opposite sex. "Some had funny quotes pinned beneath them, such as: ‘My high school was so rough we had our own coroner.' Others had bland ones: ‘I'd rather walk to school than take the bus.' Women ranked the humorous men as better potential partners, the researchers found - and as more friendly, fun and popular. Men's view of a woman, on the other hand, appeared to be uninfluenced by her wit."

The researchers than embarked on a second survey, asking them to imagine two people of the opposite sex. "One fictional character was funny; the other appreciated another person's humor. The team then asked each student which they would choose for a relationship. Women generally preferred men who were funny, while men favored a woman who thought he was funny."

The University of New Mexico then got into the mix, postulating that "women prefer funny men because their wit reveals an active and healthy brain - and a fine set of underlying genes. If this theory holds true, a woman choosing a funny man as a partner is more likely to have genetically healthy children who will survive and reproduce themselves. This so-called sexual selection could, in some circumstances, favor women who like humorous men, and men who like women with an appreciation for humor."

Could the old adage that two things you should never do in bed, point and laugh, is perhaps wrong?

Whale update

That northern bottlenose whale that ended up in the River Thames in London died of dehydration after being unable to find food, according to necropsy reports.

The whale, the first to make it to London's river shore in more than 90 years of record keeping, died as biologists attempted to return it to its native North Atlantic Ocean roaming grounds. She was a juvenile female, estimated at less than 11 years of age, and scientists believe she somehow got disoriented and took a wrong turn somewhere.

Since the whale's diet was mostly squid, and since the squid population is pretty puny in a river, the whale's fate was unfortunately pretty much assured.

Now, onto the slime

Snails got wings!?

There are some researchers who are leaning toward that hypothesis, after studying the DNA of snails found in Europe, the Azores and Tristan da Cunha.

The DNA is too close for the various species to not be directly related, but the question of how a land snail could make it more than 9,000 miles across the ocean has been a mystery for more than a century.

Now, researchers believe that the slimy, sticky snails were among the first air passengers, stuck to the feathers of birds as they roamed the oceans from Island to Island.

Wonder how they worked the frequent-flyer miles back then?

Help for the dolphins

Good news on the local dolphin front: Mote Marine Laboratory has received a $431,000 bequest to its marine mammal center to help support and educate the public on the need to protect our local waterborne friends.

The gift was on behalf of Bradenton resident Gertrude F. Schrader, a devoted animal lover. The donation, part of the trust administered by Northern Trust Bank of Florida, will help support the expansion of the Ann & Alfred Goldstein Marine Mammal Center. According to Mote, "The building will house offices for wild dolphin and other marine mammal researchers and include new space for traveling exhibits."

One is better than none, but …

The 2005 Great Bay Scallop Search produced a whopping one mollusk found in Tampa Bay, according to Tampa Bay Watch.

About 125 volunteers scoured 65 designated seagrass flats to find the lone scallop. In 2004, a total of 12 were found.

Scallops were once an easily found and delectable addition to the dinner table from the bays around Anna Maria Island. They're usually thought of as a "canary in a mine" type critter, since when water quality declines, so too does the scallop population.

Sandscript factoid

Only 2 percent of all snook caught and released die due to injury or trauma involved in their being captured.

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