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The low percentage of living bacteria commonly obtained when comparing viable counts with total direct counts in seawater could be due more to inappropriate techniques for appreciating the growth ability of living cells than to unadapted culture conditions. The most-probable-number counts in filtered seawater cultures and the microscopic counts of 4(prm1),6-diamidino-2-phenylindole (DAPI)-stained aggregate-forming units grown on black polycarbonate filters appeared significantly correlated to the direct counts. Both these techniques show that in the superficial and intermediate water masses, the living cells may constitute an important (frequently higher than 20%) but highly variable part of the total populations. These viable counts appear more realistic than the conventional CFU counts, which provide only 0.001 to 0.2% of the total counts.