The Manatees Return

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As winter descends on the Northern hemisphere, the costal waters surrounding Florida begin to cool. Warm waters that see temperatures in the low 80s for most of the year drop to the mid 60s and below. For the West Indian manatee, or manatee for short, sustained water temperatures of 65° F and below can be incompatible with life. Luckily for these underwater mega-herbivores Florida is home to several freshwater springs that maintain a constant temperature of 70-72°F year-round. Estuaries and rivers leading from the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean give easy passage to these winter havens.

 

Manatees enjoying the warmer water of Volusia Blue Spring. Photo: Tina Dow

 

A favorite winter refuge of the manatee is Blue Springs State Park in Volusia County. From March to November, Volusia Blue Springs is a popular recreation destination. Thousands of people visit daily to swim, snorkel, dive, or kayak. As 1 of 27 designated first-magnitude springs, Volusia Blue discharges over 100 million gallons of water daily. From November to March, water activities are closed to create a safe space for manatees. As nighttime temperatures continue to drop into the low 50s and upper 40s by January and February, manatee numbers in the springs increase dramatically. It is not uncommon for Volusia Blue to have hundreds of manatees at any given time.

 

Mum nursing calf at Volusia Blue Spring. Photo: Tina Dow

Making their way from the mouth of the St. John’s River in Jacksonville, manatees travel ~120 miles to the Blue Spring head waters. Unfortunately, their journey doesn’t come without danger. Strikes from motorized boats and entanglements in irresponsibly discarded fishing gear can be fatal. As evidence interactions with boats happen all too regularly, you will be hard pressed not to find a manatee without at least one prop scar on their back or tail.

In addition to Blue Springs, this time of year Manatees can also be found in fresh water springs on the Gulf Coast. From the Gulf of Mexico manatees can travel further inland via the Chassahowitzka and Crystal Rivers. Similar to the manatees traveling the St. john’s River, these animals also bear the painful reminders of an interaction with boats. Although it is legal to snorkel with manatees on the Crystal River, I prefer to enjoy their beauty from my kayak.

Manatee at Homosassa Spring. Photo: Tina Dow

Photo: Tina Dow

If you are not fortunate enough to live is the amazing state of Florida like I am, don’t despair. You can still get in on some incredible manatee-viewing action by checking out Save the Manatee’s Manatee Cam. For more information on these amazing creatures, please visit Save the Manatee at www.savethemanatee.org.

 

 

 

 

Volusia Blue Spring Photo: Tina Dow

 

Photo: Tina Dow

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