Blue Spring Manatees

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Today we took a trip up I4 a little to see the West Indian Manatees at Blue Spring State Park. They are also called sea cows, but are closely related to elephants (their "toe nails" look a lot like elephants'). Manatees, even though blubbery beasts are certainly snow birds. They can't stand water below about 68 F. In summer, they have a pretty big range that sometimes extends up to Mass! They are usually hard to find in summer because they spread out so much in search of food. In winter, they move south again and concentrate themselves only in the warmest coastal areas of the Americas AND in warm freshwater fed by natural warm springs OR industrial effluent.

Manatess are very gentle creatures. Slow moving and curious. When they hear boats and such, they surface to investigate. Most adult manatees bear scars, some horid, from run-ins with propellors or from being bound by fishing line etc. As an undergrad at Florida Tech in the early to mid 90s, I volunteered for the ecology prof doing migration studies before Christmas break. We'd snorkel with them at Homossassa Springs further north and west of Orlando- we were lucky to do so, interacting without a permit is strictly prohibited. We got to roll around with them, document their identifying scars, and measure their length etc. An awesome experience.

Our school's crew team lost at least one boat per year from manatee collisions.

My family visited H Springs in 2008 as part of our WOC vacation. It looked similar to my memories, but became more of a zoo. I was a little disappointed, but we got to see some other FL animals they placed in captivity there. Blue Spring is different, simply a spring and run that feed into St Johns river. Very little human intervention other than viewing. The way H Springs used to be.

Anyway, enjoy a couple snaps from our visit. Manatees are lovable aquatic lumberers!

A general pic of the habitat. Gorgeous IMO!!! The water is about 72 F, maxes out around 15 feet deep, and is crystal clear. Outside "manatee season" (Nov-Mar), one can snorkel and SCUBA down the run (a gentle flow makes for little effort). I've done this at Rainbow River another river with a spring feed near Bradenton, and it's awesome, even w/o the manatees.

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The head of the spring (the dark bit is a cavern). Note the dark fish most apparent along the left side of the cavern mouth. They are non-native (South American) armored suckermouth catfish, probably Hypostomus plecostomus or Pterygoplichthys gibbiceps. There were a gizillion of them. Definitely an established popluation. Along with them, there were a handful of Pacu (South American vegetarian piranha) and LOADS of Tilapia. These exotics outnumbered the natives (tarpon, gar, various Lepomis (blue gills and friends), mullet) at least 100:1. Again, the warm spring provides the water temp these tropicals require. Very few of them exist father down the St Johns.

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Sorry, Logan, no pets allowed...

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Now for the manatees!!!
This cove had at least 30, YES THIRTY, adult manatees. There were several such groupings and lots of individuals and small groups. The rangers counted up 244 !!! individual manatees in the park today!!!!!! Not bad.

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Note the tail fluke on this one. A prop wound probably not more than a couple days old. They migrate in and out of the spring run as the temperatures change, sometimes on a daily basis. They have little protection from us in the open St Johns. It was good to see a decent number of animals with no/minimal damage.

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A really neat sight is a momma nursing a calf. Manatees have their mammary glands in their "armpits" behind their upper limbs. Well, hey, sweat glands and mammary glands are almost identical histologically.

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If any of you visit Florida during the cooler months, DON'T leave without seeing the manatees. Blue Springs is my favorite viewing spot so far and less than an hour from Disney etc. Shoot, let us know if you're in town and we'll give you some tips and might even join you. Cheers!
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Thank you for sharing. Very interesting, wonderful pictures. Manatees seems to be very kind creatures.

Can you tell me how the exotic fish can be there? Were they "pets" ?

Yep. Ex-pets. Careless folks release some species when they outgrow their aquariums. Stupid. Oscars, Texas Cichlids, flowerhorns, snakeheads, and Hoplosternum catfish are among some of the other exotics with established population in FL. All ornamentals known well in the aquarium trade.

Escaped/released constrictor snakes are commonly in our news. Just the other day a kid got killed by an escaped python. 15'+ I think.

The Tilapia probably escaped food aquaculture ponds though.
Thanks for posting.
I've always wanted to see them, but never been blessed with the opportunity the few times I've been to Florida.
I showed my husband these pictures and was quickly prompted with "Let's go! We've got some vacation, right?"
Never heard of vegetarian piranhas before. I can easily imagine some dumb Holliwood producer trying to make a scary movie with those guys. ''Stage hands, bring the lettuce please!''
snorkeling with the manatees, I'm envious! You mentioned losing a boat, canoes I would guess, to the manatees, did they overturn it?
snorkeling with the manatees, I'm envious! You mentioned losing a boat, canoes I would guess, to the manatees, did they overturn it?

The boats are called "shells"- the long, thin, shallow boats used in sculling in the sport of crew. You know, college kids in red and white striped shirts racing down a river. Manatees snap these babies in half.
Really nice pictures only can see them in a zoo
here in germany. One day I will have time to fly to florida.

Will visit Texas this month.