Manatee Hunting in Florida

Rumor had it that Blue Springs was the place to go to see manatees. So, off we went! Blue Springs is just outside of DeLand, FL on Hwy 17, north of Orlando. Blue Springs empties into St John’s River, which empties into the Atlantic Ocean. A week or so ago, freezing temp brought the manatees up into the springs. The count was around 300! We saw about 15 in the morning.

Manatees are air breathers. Their nostrils close when under water. They come up for air at least every 20 minutes. If they are more active, they come up more often. You can hear them exhale when they surface. They sound like a whale but they don’t make a spout like a whale does. Manatees are actually related to elephants. They have sparse hair on their body and 3 toenails on their front flippers. They are vegetarians.They are nicknamed “sea cows” because they graze on aquatic plants; eating 10% of their body weight per day. They have to move out into the river to eat every day. Boat propellers cause most of the injuries. They are slow moving but have very good hearing and can move out of the way of a slow moving boat. It’s the fast ones they have trouble with. See the propeller marks on the one below.

This is a dock where the tour boat loads. This group of various ages of manatees are swimming back and forth under the dock.

Swimming and scuba diving is allowed in the springs except during the winter months (Nov-Mar) to protect the manatees.

I was thrilled to see this group of 5! Mom has some propeller scars. She has 4 little ones with her. Two look small enough to be this year’s babies but I think they only have 1 per year? The other two are older. Babies stay close to mom for 2 years. I’m not sure if all 4 are hers but they sure stayed huddled close. Baby manatees weigh about 60 pounds at birth.

When a manatee is rescued for treatment of an illness or injury, they put a loose band around the base of it’s tail. The band, called a tag, has a GPS locator on a float so they can track it for a couple years to make sure it is recovering well. If it’s not doing well, they can locate it and bring it back in for more treatment. You can see the float below. It looks like a bobber (over by the log) above the wide, flat tail of the light, grey manatee.

The constant 72 degree temps of the springs causes a light layer of fog on cold mornings. This morning was in the low 50’s. Manatees need water temps of 65 degrees, or over, to live. So when the river temps get below 65, the manatees move up into the springs. This season, almost 80 manatees have died due to cold water temps. Somebody needs to tell Al Gore that the Global Warming cycle is over!

The campground at Blue Springs is beautiful. Lots of vegetation provides good separation and privacy from neighboring campsites.

We also camped at Manatee Springs on the Gulf side of Florida. It is a deeper springs and harder to see the manatees. This spring empties into the Suwanee River, then into the Gulf of Mexico. This is where we heard that 77 manatees died in 1 week due to cold. We did not see any manatees at Manatee Springs. The temps are still cold so we’re not sure where they all went!
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