The Manatees Are In At Blue Spring!

The cool weather in Florida has attracted manatees to the warm spring waters at Blue Spring State Park. (Photo © Walker Stanberry )

The chill is in the air and that means manatees are starting to gather at warm water refuge areas in Florida. Like snowbirds who head south for the winter, manatees are somewhat migratory animals and travel with the change in seasons. As winter approaches, they head for warm water sources such as freshwater springs or power plant effluents.

In Florida, refuges have been established at many of these warm water sites so manatees can be free from danger and harassment. Blue Spring State Park, located in Orange City (approximately 45 minutes north of Orlando), is one of Florida’s most important manatee refuges.

Aquatic Visitors
Blue Spring has an interesting history. In 1971, Jacques Cousteau filmed his documentary, The Forgotten Mermaids, there. The film brought international attention to the plight of manatees and influenced the state of Florida to purchase Blue Spring and designate it as a state park and manatee refuge area.

Manatees gather under the trees in the spring run at Blue Spring State Park. (Photo © Walker Stanberry)

If you’ve never visited, Blue Spring State Park is beautiful. It features lush tropical vegetation and crystal blue spring waters. One of the most appealing aspects of the park, however, is the manatees that visit the spring waters every winter – usually November through April. Each year, thousands of visitors from across the globe gather to view the slow-moving aquatic mammals.

Baby, It’s Cold
Out There
You wouldn’t think that manatees need warm water because they are so large. But in spite of their size, manatees have very little body fat, so they are sensitive to cold water. They cannot tolerate temperatures below 20° C (68° F) for long periods of time. Researchers believe that individuals affected by the cold cannot produce enough metabolic heat to make up for heat loss in the environment.

Blue Spring is ideal for wintering manatees because it maintains a constant 72-degree temperature. When the temperature drops, manatees know they can always depend on Blue Spring to keep them warm.

The Manatees Report In
A recent visit to Blue Spring at the end of November found 20 manatees in the spring run. Visitors gathered at the viewing platform were treated to two mom and calf pairs, and several manatees glided right by the platform, gracefully turning “barrel rolls” as they swam by.

Early in the morning, Ranger Wayne Hartley checks
the run for manatees. (Photo © Walker Stanberry)

Ranger Wayne Hartley, who tracks the manatees at the park for research purposes, reported that several of our adoptees had already showed up for the season, including Lily, Robin, Lenny, Dana, Phyllis, Paddy Doyle, and Margarito.

“They started arriving in October,” said Ranger Wayne. “We’ve had a few cold spells and that brought them in. Last Saturday, we had a total of 75 manatees in the spring run, and we had 52 on Sunday.”

Ranger Wayne has also predicted “tons of calves” for the 2005 – 2006 manatee season. “Dana has a calf, and Phyllis brought her calf, Biker, from last season,” he said. “Michelle has a tiny calf with white around the flipper. Galadriel even has twins -- a rare event. No calf for Lily though, although I predicted it last season. I haven’t sorted them all out yet, but I know we’ll have lots of calves this year.”

Mystic Mermaids
“I’m surprised at how many manatees are around today,” said Ranger Wayne. “It was hot this morning. But it is supposed to get down to 55 degrees tonight and in the 40s this weekend.”

Scientists don’t know what cues manatees follow, but they seem to know when cold weather is coming. A couple of days later, a cold front pushed through, and the temperatures dropped. When they did, it was good to know that the manatees were keeping warm at Blue Spring.

Visitors crowd the viewing platform at Blue Spring to observe the manatees --
a popular winter attraction at the park. (Photo © Walker Stanberry)

Update! On Wednesday, December 14, Ranger Wayne called and reported that all Blue Spring adoptees have checked in except for Elaine, Flash, and Troy. However, Troy has been sighted at the Riviera Beach Power Plant in southeast Florida, and he expects to see Flash and Elaine any day now.