Manatee Reports

Manatee researchers at Blue Spring State Park.
Wayne Hartley, Manatee Specialist, and Cora Berchem, Director of Multimedia & Manatee Research Associate, take “manatee roll call” in the winter at Blue Spring State Park.

Manatee Reports from Blue Spring State Park

by Wayne Hartley, Manatee Specialist, and Cora Berchem, Director of Multimedia & Manatee Research Associate

December 1, 2021:
The river temp today was 62.6° F (17° C). It may have been raised a degree or two by the spring water moving south. We counted 440 manatees including Save the Manatee Club adoptees Paddy Doyle, Howie, Lucille, Philip, Phyllis, Una, Aqua, Lily, Flash, Gator, Nick, Annie, Lenny, Merlin, Doc, Whiskers, and Rocket. Yesterday Cora stayed all day at the park for Giving Tuesday. She added Lucille, Deep Dent, Phyllis, Philip, and Howie to the three adoptees I saw while waiting for manatee Lawrence’s release. At the end or the roll call we got to watch a great blue heron chase a cormorant all around the canoe basin trying to steal a nice catfish the cormorant had in its bill. The cormorant finally got to eat its catch.

November 30, 2021:
The river temp was 61° F (16° C). The wind and manatees were calm, but Cora had an interview with CBS News in the canoe, and then Lawrence the manatee came down from Jacksonville Zoo to be released. We had no real opportunity for a manatee count, but the park staff counted over 300 manatees. We saw Save the Manatee Club adoptees Phyllis, Gator, and Merlin. Merlin was trailing a long piece of something on the webcam the other day, and it was good to see it was gone. Our second “floater” has off gassed and is fine now. I should have mentioned that earlier. We have seen 603 manatees so far this season. There are 345 recognized from last season, 6 from earlier seasons, 88 “easy to recognize unknowns” (meaning they are badly scarred), 95 “hard to recognize seasonals” (lightly scarred), and 69 calves. There are many more manatees to be seen as the season continues! It will be a little warmer for a couple of days — but not enough to cause all the manatees to depart — then more cold weather is due.

November 29, 2021:
The Save the Manatee Club adoptees seen during the count today were Philip, Annie, Lily, Flash, Phyllis, Whiskers, and Rocket. We were about to beach the canoe when we found Lucille. The river temp was 62.6° F (17° C). It has been my observation that 68° F to 63° F river temps get the manatees in mostly for comfort, while water temps below 63° F can be life threatening to them. Of course the smaller manatees and calves would likely be susceptible earlier. We counted 386 manatees from the canoe while the park staff counted 474 manatees from the boardwalk. This is one of the times when counting from higher up on the bank gives an advantage. With the stirred up clay and silt, we often had to look at the current patterns created by the manatees on the surface and estimate how many were down there in the murk!

November 27, 2021:
The river was at barely 66.2° F (17° C), and I counted 335 manatees, but I think I severely undercounted. Some transects were very stirred up again, making it extremely difficult to see the manatees. The last thing you want to do is paddle over them without them realizing you are there and spook them! The park staff counted 431 manatees from the boardwalk, 48 of them at the spring head alone. When I got to the springhead, only one manatee was left there. Adoptee Deep Dent made his first season visit today, so all Blue Spring adoptees are accounted for! The other adoptees in today were Aqua, Flash, Annie, Floyd, Brutus, Lucille, Moo Shoo with calf, Philip, Gator, Margarito, and Doc. Nick, Paddy Doyle, Lily, and Una showed up after the count was finished. We are still seeing new arrivals each day.

November 25 – 26, 2021:
On Thursday, the river temperature had dropped to 62.6° F (17° C), and the manatees were certainly piling in for Thanksgiving! Cora counted 391 manatees and park staff even counted 414! With it being so early in the season, the manatees were very active and had once again stirred up a lot of clay, both in the lower half of the spring run and in the upper part where they were cavorting and swimming back and forth, so getting an exact count was very difficult. Two mom/calf pairs with an entourage of followers kept going up and down the run multiple times to make sure they got counted! There were lots of new arrivals, and Cora was able to get photos of manatees we hadn’t seen yet this season. Adoptee Lenny made his first season visit today! The other adoptees seen were Paddy Doyle, Floyd, Moo Shoo with calf, Gator, Aqua, Lucille, Lily, Rocket, Doc, Philip, Phyllis, Margarito, and Lesley! Many more may have been hiding in the murky waters. On Friday, the river temp was 65.2° F (18.5° C). We counted 346 manatees. The Save the Manatee Club adoptees in were Howie, Philip, Lily, Floyd, Brutus, Paddy Doyle, Annie, Rocket, Gator, Doc, Whiskers, Moo Shoo and calf, Aqua, Flash, and Una. It was quite a good showing and with Whiskers in, and the only adoptee we lack is Deep Dent. Next week is predicted to have a lot of temps in the forties so we expect to be busy!

November 24, 2021:

The river temp was down to 64.4° F (18° C). The manatees responded appropriately. We counted 329 manatees, so we are obviously past the total seen I reported recently of 304. Maybe I can work on that this weekend. The Save the Manatee Club adoptees responded as well. We saw Annie, Paddy Doyle (very dirty), Lucille, Lily, Flash, Moo Shoo and calf, Una, Floyd, Gator, Doc, and, late for roll call but welcome all the same, Rocket and Merlin! All we need for a full set is Deep Dent, Lenny, and Whiskers! Many others were in that we were glad to see. Millie, an adoptee from the east coast of Florida was in, also big Donna. Donna came in just before season last season and wasn’t seen again until today. With the problems on the east coast and some of the research curtailed by Covid, we were more than worried about her. Many Blue Spring manatees do frequent the east coast from time to time. The last two days, the area in front of the above-water web cam has been “Black Vulture City.” There may have been as many as 50 of them mostly on the ground and a few in nearby trees. It could have been due to an eagle using one of their favorite trees

November 23, 2021:
The river temp was 66.2 ° F (19° C). We counted 74 manatees. It would have been 73, but we found one more hidden under a log at the boil. Lucille and Gator were the only Save the Manatee Club adoptees in. ID’s were very difficult with the winds up to 20 mph. Yesterday it was rain, and today it was wind. With both we would not go out, but with it so early in the season and so much to observe every roll call, we push to get out on the run even when it is difficult.

November 22, 2021:
Before the rains came, I was able to ID Lucille. I doubt there were any other Save the Manatee Club adoptees present. There were at least 40 other manatees. The river temp was 70° F (21° C). I ID’d 12 out of the 40 manatees present. Normally we ID at least half or more. Cold the next two nights. Should get better!

November 19, 2021:
I ran out of time yesterday, so I am doing yesterday’s blog today! The river temp was 66.2° F (19° C). I think the previous three days were affected by the warm spring water. We saw 84 manatees, including Save the Manatee Club adoptees Lily, Gator, and Annie. Annie’s calf was born early in the spring of the year, and we believe Annie decided to wean it early. We have not seen Annie with a calf for some time. We are watching another high floating manatee. It was not floating earlier, and we hope it resolves on its own. Cold weather coming Monday night.

November 18, 2021:
The river temp is still 68° F (20° C). We counted 155 manatees. Save the Manatee Club adoptees Paddy Doyle, Flash, Howie, Annie, and Lily were in. The warmer days are telling. Manatees breathing warm air are not as concerned with the cold water.

November 17, 2021:
Today the thermometer read 68° F (20° C). We counted 186 manatees. The Save the Manatee Club adoptees were Lucille, Howie, Paddy Doyle, Gator, and Annie. It so rewarding to see individual manatees return even if they are not adoptees.

November 16, 2021:
The river temp did not seem to agree with what was happening, but for what it was worth, it was 68° F (20° ). There were more manatees, and the dark, heavy, cold river-water intrusion was farther, so the river should have been colder. We counted 163 manatees. Flash, Nick, and Lesley made their first visits for the season to join Lucille, Annie, and Gator. A total of 29 manatees made their first appearance of the season today. That impressed me! Good news — our floater was resting calmly on the bottom of the run!

November 15, 2021:
The river was 66° F (19° C) today and the manatees are coming back. We counted 96 manatees, and the adoptees were Gator, Annie and calf, and Lucille. We have two manatees we are concerned about. One is swimming funny, and we are keeping an eye on it. We have only seen it on the webcam. The other was in today for the roll call. He was a floater. Floating high and submerging with difficulty. This is usually just gas and resolves itself over night, so we will be watching tomorrow to see how he is doing.

November 14, 2021:
The river temperature was 68.9°F (20.5°C). Cora was out at the park and counted 52 manatees. None of them were Save the Manatee Club adoptees. Wayne viewed the webcam where he saw 14 manatees sleeping in water, but the images were very disturbed by the wind so he made no ID’s. Yesterday he was on late and saw four juveniles sleeping or “stooging” around. He also did some numbers work: we have seen 304 individual manatees this week. At least 172 of them were returns from last year, and 42 are calves. Not bad for the first week of the season! The Save the Manatee Club webcams — above and underwater — are back up again now and livestreaming. Besides being a fun, entertaining tool for the general public, they also provide us with important data for the research, such as taking additional photos for scar-ID and getting footage of manatees we may be concerned about. It is getting cooler again, so we are expecting more manatees over the next few days.

November 12, 2021:
As expected the river temp has risen. It was 69.8°F (21°C). The manatee numbers were down to 79, and only Gator showed up to represent the Save the Manatee Club adoptees. We expect a big increase next week as low temperatures will be in the 40s for two or three days. Even though the predicted lows have gone up, they are still to be in the 40s for now. For those new to the Club, Cora and I participate in a life history study of the manatees at Blue Spring. The heart of the study is to re-recognize the individual manatees as they come in each season. This is done by keeping track of the manatee’s boat scars with photographs and drawings. Scar patterns heal, and new ones are suffered so even the well-documented manatees have to be frequently re-photographed. My favorite non-adoptee named Cleburne already suffered a severe strike in the past along with many small ones. Now he is back with a third of his tail missing on the left side. Boaters take care!

November 11, 2021:

Manatee numbers showed the drop in the river temp to 68°F (20°C). We only counted 124 manatees. We saw no new Save the Manatee Club adoptees, but we did see Philip, Gator, Una, and Lucille. There should be another drop in manatee numbers tomorrow, but after the weekend things may be crazy with lows in the 40s!

November 10, 2021:
In spite of the temp coming up to 65.3°F (18°C), the number of manatees we counted increased to 213. The manatees are still very active — stirring the silt and clay up into the water to make viewing and filming very difficult. We saw Save the Manatee Club adoptees Margarito, Gator, Philip, Una, and Lily. This was the first day in for Margarito, Philip, and Una.

November 9, 2021:
The river temp dropped almost another two degrees to 64.4°F (18°C). Manatees continue to come in and are very active! We counted 203 manatees for roll call. Our Save the Manatee Club adoptees were: Paddy Doyle, Lily, Brutus, Gator, Annie and calf, Moo Shoo and calf, Aqua, and Phyllis. We have seen 11 adoptees now. The season before last, a non-adoptable manatee named China (BS797) was terribly cut by a boat propeller just before the manatees left for the season. Last season she did not come in, and we feared the worst. Covid meant less information was available on dead manatees, which increased our uncertainty about China. China was in today looking very well and she had a calf! We also had another long time “no-see” manatee named Linden come in for the first time since January 2017. This is a fun time for research!

November 8, 2021:
The river temp was down almost two degrees from yesterday to 66.2°F (19°C). The manatees responded accordingly. We counted 105 for the official count while still dealing with the clay clouds the manatees were stirring up. Manatees were trooping in and out the entire time we were on the water. Forty-four more manatees were ID’d after the count, and others that could not be ID’d came in as well. Many calves and juveniles were in as they are the most susceptible to cold. Seven adoptees were in: Lucille, Annie and calf, Gator, Lily, Phyllis, Howie, and Moo Shoo and calf. Not bad for the second day of the season! Now the weather warms and many will leave, but tomorrow should still be very good.

November 7, 2021:

The river temp was 67.9°F (19.9°C) today. The wind was awful so the count could only be made from the boardwalk. I counted 52 manatees, but there must have been over 60 if I could have seen all the manatees in the clouds of clay they were stirring up! Many cows and calves were seen plus Gator and Lily! The park staff has been busy, so I was unable to get an idea of the numbers of manatees in the past few days. I think this is the day the manatee season starts even if the coming warm temperatures cause most to leave! I’m looking forward to tomorrow even if the wind keeps up.

November 1 2021:
Cora, our Manatee Research Associate, is seeing manatees in and out lately on the webcam, but not enough or consistently to start the season. During October we saw Annie and calf, Nick, and Lucille. Today we saw several mothers and calves including Annie. Many non-adoptees have been coming in, but they do not stay long.

Wayne Hartley is a Manatee Specialist for Save the Manatee Club. Before joining the Club, he was a Park Ranger and then a Park Service Specialist with the Florida Park Service. Wayne served for over three decades as Principal Investigator for manatee research conducted at Blue Spring State Park.

Read Wayne’s reports from the 2020 – 2021 Manatee Season