Wayne Hartley takes "manatee roll call" at Blue Spring State Park.
Wayne Hartley takes “manatee roll call” at Blue Spring State Park.

Manatee Reports from Blue Spring State Park

by Wayne Hartley, Manatee Specialist
Save the Manatee Club

December 10, 2018:
The river was only down to 66°F (19°C), but we counted 237 manatees in high winds that made ID’s very difficult. We did ID 116 manatees and saw Moo Shoo, Rocket, Phyllis, and Aqua. A bonus was seeing one manatee we had been hoping for. Freya, not an adoptee, was back, and the terrible wounds she suffered last year are completely healed. Many manatees are still making their first visit for the season, so the excitement continues.

December 9, 2018:
I just added up my numbers again: 234 manatees have returned from last season, five manatees from previous seasons have returned, and there are 44 calves, 51 unknowns or heavily-scarred manatees, and 82 seasonals, or lightly-scarred manatees. This totals to 416 manatee so far this season. Not a bad start. Howie is the only adoptee I expect to see who has not been located somewhere else.

December 7, 2018:
The river dropped a degree and one half to 62° F (17° C), and I counted 305 manatees. Of these, I ID’d 207. It was the first calm day I’ve been out. Too sunny for good filming though. Deep Dent was the first manatee I ID’d. Later I saw Margarito, so those two have made their first appearance for the season! I also saw Philip, Nick, Floyd, Lily, Rocket, Una, Phyllis, and Doc. Paddy Doyle was not there at the start, but he came in during the count. Gator came in when the count was over. In addition, Brutus and Merlin have been sighted at a northern spring as reported by Monica Ross of Sea to Shore Alliance. Two manatees need line removed, and several manatees need retagging. We are also looking at a possible capture. The season is so exciting, but I can’t ignore the five deaths we have had at the season’s start: two calves, two young females, and yesterday, a young male was brought in. I just managed to ID it as Kala. He was probably no more than five years old. One of the females was a boat-related death, but the cause of death is unknown for the  rest.

December 6, 2018:
The river was 64° F (17.5° C) today. I counted 280 manatees, which included Lucille, Nick, Philip, Una, Moo Shoo, Annie, Whiskers, and Phyllis. Nick and Whiskers were making their first visit for the season. Many non-adoptees made first appearances as well. In addition Flash appeared on Facebook in a film shot at a spring to our north. I hear there is no food to the north, so perhaps Flash, Brutus, and Merlin will be around more this season.

December 5, 2018
The river temperature we got was 67° F (19.5° C). The wind was out of the north and that temp must have been effected by the spring run being blown south. The river had to be cooler than that. The wind is hard on us as we try to ID manatees through the ripples on the water. As soon as the wind from a cold front coming through calms down, the wind from the next warm front starts up and so on. Well, we counted 123 manatees and ID’d 56. We saw Annie and Rocket from the adoption program.

December 4, 2018
The river warmed a degree, and the manatee count dropped from 106 to 86. Now it is due to cool for a bit again, and we look forward to many more new arrivals. Even with the warmer river temperature, manatees that we have not seen yet this season continue to come in. There were 16 new arrivals today. Doc was our sole adoptee, and he barely make it before we got off the water!

December 3, 2018
Yesterday Cora Berchem, our Manatee Research & Multimedia Specialist, counted 194 manatees. Among them were Lily, Floyd, Gator, Doc, Philip, and Rocket. Today we had only Paddy Doyle in among 106 manatees. The river was 65° F (18° C) and rising. The manatees were packed just inside the run for the most part — waiting to get out in the river as it warmed.

December 2, 2018
Here are some numbers for the season so far: 157 manatees have returned from last season, and five have returned from previous seasons. We have 26 live calves from identified mothers. The next two figures are a day old: 19 manatees are scarred enough to name and number, if not ID, and 12 have minor scars that will probably disappear by next season. This gives a total of 229 manatees. Cora has counted 298 manatees. What gives? That’s because we do total manatee counts, and we do identification based on their scars. Many manatees have been counted but with no chance to ID. The young and least scarred manatees come in first, and we can count them but not keep track of them. In addition, they are greeting friends that they have not seen all summer while they were scattered from the Carolinas to the Keys! In their enthusiasm, the manatees are stirring up the clay and bottom silt in the spring run. Add the wind, and many manatees can hardly be seen, let alone get ID’d! But it will settle down.

November 29, 2018:
The river temperature was 63° F (17° C) today, and luckily the wind had calmed down a bit. The park staff counted 206 manatees, and my count was 298. Of those, 98 of manatees were ID’d. The manatees were still busy stirring up the clay — playing and cavorting, which made identification very difficult, especially in the lower part of the run. Save the Manatee Club adoptees Lenny, Moo Shoo, Una, Annie, Lucille, Lily, Aqua, Phyllis, Gator, Doc, and Paddy Doyle were seen. It looks like Aqua may have a calf! Many of the calves are currently running around playing with each other while mom is resting, and it often hard to determine which calf belongs to which mother. A manatee that showed up at Blue Spring last December with significant scars turned out to be “RB654” — a manatee previously known from Riviera Beach. He only visited us at Blue Spring for a few days and then disappeared again, but today he was back! We are still seeing more manatees come in that we had not seen yet this season, which is exciting. Unfortunately, we also got the news that a carcass of a female manatee was recovered north of Blue Spring. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission staff retrieved the carcass, which had no obvious scars on it, and we are awaiting the necropsy report.

November 26 – 28, 2018
On Monday, Cora counted 17 manatees, and the park staff counted 15. The temp in the St. Johns River was 68° F (20° C). Of those, 10 manatees were identified, but none of them were Save the Manatee Club adoptees. On Tuesday, we counted 36 manatees, and the park staff counted 41. The river temp was 69° F (20.5° C). Annie was the only Save the Manatee Club adoptee, and she was in with her calf. Buckeye, a manatee previously rescued and released, had lost his tag, which was recovered by an employee from the St John’s River Cruises by the kayak/canoe launch at the park. We notified Sea to Shore Alliance staff, who are tracking Buckeye for the Manatee Rehabilitation Partnership. It was very windy, which made the count difficult. Many manatees were seen actively cavorting around the tour boats and in the river throughout the entire day.

On Wednesday the 28th, Cora counted 195 manatees, and the park staff counted 104. The river temperature had dropped to 65° F (18.5° C). It was still very windy, which made counting and identification hard. On top of that, many manatees actively cavorted both in the lower part of the run as well as in the “swimming area,” and the water was very stirred up. Of those counted, 85 manatees were identified, including Save the Manatee Club adoptees Lucille, Lily, Gator, Annie with her calf, Una, Floyd, Moo Shoo, and Phyllis with her calf. It was great to see Una, who had been released last December after being rehabilitated at SeaWorld Orlando for entanglement in monofilament fishing line. Una looked good, but unfortunately she did have a new entanglement on her right flipper. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission was notified, and photos will be sent out. Trevluc, another manatee who is being monitored by researchers from Sea to Shore Alliance, was also seen today. He was still wearing his tracking belt, but there was no tag. Sea to Shore staff was notified. With the cool temperatures, we are expecting to see many manatees over the next few days and hopefully more adoptees!

November 22, 2018
Cora Berchem, our Manatee Researcher & Multimedia Specialist, counted 37 manatees, and the park staff counted 44. The river temp was 68° F (20° C). We might have expected more, but the manatees know it is warming up. Of those counted, 19 manatees were ID’d, but none were adoptees. Cora saw a great deal of cavorting in the river. There is rain and wind in the forecast, so counts will be difficult to impossible for a few days.

November 21, 2018
Bulletin: When Cora Berchem, our Manatee Researcher & Multimedia Specialist, reviewed the webcam film for the weekend, she found Lily and Floyd had come in. So with Gator, we have three adoptees for the season so far! The river was 68° F (20° C) today, and Cora and I counted 20 manatees for the official count and then 11 more came in after the count. Twenty of the 31 manatees were ID’d, including Gator.

November 20, 2018
The weather was a little cooler than I thought it would be, but it did not help. The river temp was 70° F (21° C) and only 15 manatees were in. Eleven manatees were ID’d but none were adoptees. It rained, and I got soaked. The raincoat in the car did me no good in the canoe. We have seen 47 manatees since the start of the season four days ago, and 13 of these are calves. We also have five more calves we have seen recently, but not since the season started. Well, it is to be cooler by the end of November. I’m looking forward to it!

November 19, 2018
Cora Berchem, our Manatee Researcher & Multimedia Specialist, and I took roll call today and counted at least 39 manatees. Yesterday Cora counted 61 and the day before the park staff counted 47. That means the manatee season at Blue Spring State Park in Volusia County began on Saturday, November 17, 2018. There appears to be no cool weather in the outlook until next Monday, so manatee attendance may go right back down. Twenty-five of the 39 manates were ID’d today, but there were no adoptees. However Cora did see Gator yesterday, so we have at least one adoptee back! We will be keeping an eye out the next two days leading into the holiday.

October 28 – November 4, 2018:
Cora Berchem, Manatee Researcher & Multimedia Specialist, and I did a rehearsal of a manatee count in October, and now it is November! I should have done a rehearsal of the blog as well. The river temperatures have been in the low 70s Fahrenheit (low 20s Celsius) at Racy Point in Putnam County, near Palatka, Florida. Racy Point is 60-some miles north, so the temps are more like mid-70s at Blue Spring. Manatees have been dropping by to check the spring out. Most do not stay long, but we needed to be sure we were ready for the season. We took the river temp, which was 72.6° F (22.5° C) — basically the same as the spring run. On October 28th, the canoe was fine; on the 29th buzzards had removed five letters of the stickers spelling “manatee research.” We put on new letters and unlocked the canoe. The locks worked beautifully. Normally they are rusted up after the summer, and I have to oil them and beat them with a hammer to get them open and working. The canoe was high up the bank to escape the rising St Johns River, but as the rain had been to the north in the latter part of the rainy season, we could move it down to a more convenient place to launch. Last season we secured the canoe to the steps and left it afloat hoping it would not rain before the water receded. We checked out some manatees and headed up the run to see if the posts with metal numbers marking the transects (they help us locate the manatees on our maps) had survived the swim season, and they had! Back to the manatees: the count was seven and although no adoptees were in, five could be ID’d. We were excited to see Brooke with a new calf. That makes eight live calves for the year with the season not even underway!

On November 4th, the river temp was 70° F (21.2° C) at Racy Point today — two degrees Fahrenheit above the magic number to get the season started. It will be warmer at Blue Spring. We get one day of manatee temperatures (low 50s, low 70s) for six days in the upper 60s and mid-80s. Right now it looks as if the season will start sometime in the last two weeks of November. We are so looking forward to it!!

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 2017 – 2018 Manatee Season