By Letitia Stein
(Reuters) - U.S. wildlife officials plan to announce on Thursday whether the manatee should be downgraded from endangered to threatened status, following extensive review of Florida's "sea cow," a species long considered at risk of becoming extinct.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has scheduled a news conference at 1:30 p.m. ET in Miami to share its decision on the protection status of the West Indian manatee, which has been listed as endangered since 1967.
The agency was petitioned to downgrade the protection status of the manatee by the Pacific Legal Foundation acting on behalf of Save Crystal River Inc, a non-profit advocating for the rights of recreational water users in west central Florida.
The 2012 petition cited evidence that manatee populations were generally stable or increasing around Florida, home to a subspecies of the marine mammal known for its tubular body and paddle-shaped tail.
The range of the West Indian manatee extends into the U.S. southeast, the Caribbean, Mexico, and Central and South America.
The petition noted that U.S. regulators in 2007 recommended downgrading the manatee to threatened status but never took action to reclassify the species.
The West Indian manatee is related the African and Amazon species and to the dugong of Australia. It grows to be about 10 feet long and more than 1,000 pounds.