The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering changing the manatee's status from endangered to threatened.
As part of that process, the agency is seeking public comment on its finding that a petition to reclassify the manatee has merits. The deadline for comments is Tuesday.
The majority of the more than 700 comments submitted so far urge the government to keep the manatee listed as endangered.
The groups behind the petition say those responses only prove that emotions drive manatee-related policies, not facts or the wildlife service's own rules. The Citrus County group Save Crystal River Inc. and the conservative Pacific Legal Foundation say excessive regulation protects manatees at the expense of businesses relying on waters where manatees swim.
Reclassifying the manatee wouldn't immediately change any of its protections.