The Antillean manatee, Trichechus manatus manatus, is among the most threatened mammals in Honduras, yet the last published study is from 1980. Since then, the North Coast of Honduras has experienced rapid population growth and land cover change possibly causing habitat loss for manatees. We conducted aerial, boat, and interview surveys between 2005-2007 along the northern and remote eastern coasts of Honduras to assess the current status and distribution of manatees. In addition, we compiled all available data on manatee mortality from museum specimens, unpublished reports, and interviews to determine current threats. We averaged 1.2 manatee sightings per survey hour during six flights along the North Coast in March-April 2006 during 14.4 aerial survey hours. Sightings were mainly clustered in Cuero y Salado Wildlife Refuge (CSWR) and Rios Chapagua and Aguan, which we indentify as important conservation areas. Our total and average sightings per survey hour in CSWR were much lower than those reported in 1979-80, in spite of the area being protected since 1987. Our interviews indicate that manatees are still present on the eastern coast (La Mosquitia), however we observed none during 14.5 survey hours in June 2005 and April 2007. The major cause of known mortality from 1970-2007, based on 26 records, was due to entanglement in fishnets. Despite local and federal protection, manatees are still poached and opportunistically caught in fishnets. While some efforts have been made by local NGOs to raise public awareness for manatees, a national conservation program is highly recommended to centralize and coordinate efforts.
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/daniel_gonzalez_socoloske/3/