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The Curious Manatee

Thursday, March 17, 2011

We're at Blue Springs State Park not far from Orlando, Florida, watching gators and manatees lie down and laze together in the heated water. It was all I could do not to wade in and get me some manatee love, but that's frowned upon. I did enjoy watching the Plecostomus catfish giving the manatees algae-suckin' rubdowns with their big sucker mouths, something the manatees appeared to be electing to invite by swimming down into the big concentrations of fish. The catfish obligingly worked them over, cleaned them up, just like my old Pleco used to clean up the aquarium walls.

A juvenile manatee swam in from stage right, wearing a belt at the base of his tail. Attached to the belt was a buoy with a radiotransmitter on it. One of the regulars on the observation dock said that this was an injured animal that had been rehabilitated at Sea World, and released with tracking, so they could see how he did. Cool!

We weren't the only ones who noticed the float. A much smaller juvenile manatee swam over and began fooling around with the float. First, she (I didn't know the animal's sex, but it just seemed like a girl thing to do) gathered it in her flippers. She held it underwater and released it, to see how it bobbed right back up.

Boing! She did this a number of times.

It was time for further exploration. She began to mouth the float.

The kids and I laughed to see her mess with it. Meanwhile the tagged manatee lay sullenly on the spring bottom, probably wishing someone would relieve him of this annoyingly fascinating appendage.

It wasn't long before the baby manatee got the whole darn float in her mouth. We wondered if the biologists who attached the transmitter knew it was going to be chewed upon by manatees.

When the baby tired of playing with the float, she went and got her momma, who repeated the entire exercise, even down to practically swallerin' the thing.

I apologize for the low quality of these photos. It was foggy, and the animals were very far away and underwater at that. But I was pleased to capture a little of the manatee way of doing things with the 300 mm. Canon telephoto zoom lens. 

Lots of people love manatees. Curious, gentle, sweet...those are the adjectives you hear over and over when people try to describe the sirenian personality.

I'm glad we've not exploited our native manatees for marine shows. It  probably has more to do with a manatee's decidedly non-flashy, rather blimplike appearance and way of moving than any sort of ethics on our part.

As the white propeller scars on these animals attest, they come into more than enough contact with us and our doings as it is. I'm thankful for preserves like Blue Springs, where these sweet dirigibles can come to spend the winter, warm and relatively undisturbed. And we can come to tell them we love them.
And the people gathered on the observation dock did love them. You could feel it, and I'm sure the manatees could, too.


I used to wonder why my cats would mouth things they were curious about. Then it occurred to me that when you lack thumbs and have questionable near vision, there are only just so many ways left to explore the world, and if you can't hear it or smell it...

Cool place! I want to be there!

Kah Wai

Julie: Loved your manatee images and text. I hope you have posted your best photo because I want to see it. I have such a good feeling for this species I have done a painting of a cow and calf. Cheers.

Wow! A few weeks ago I camped overnight at Manatee Springs State park hoping for a scene like this, but the weather had warmed up and the manatees had already moved on. Interesting to see what it might have looked like!

You hit Blue Springs on a great day, Zick! I'm so glad the kids could dig on Manatees! Florida can be pretty magical, at times...especially if you ignore the politics and just root around in the pineyflatwoods like I do...

What wonderfu pictures of Florida's Gentle Giants!! Great that you were able to see them and in action!
I hope that you will have time to check out more of "Old Florida" -- Juniper Springs in the Ocala National Forest. It's located on Hwy. 40 between Ocala and Astor. The springs were coraled in the 30s by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps). My parents graduated from HS in 1949 and they would go swimming there on weekends.
The BEST way to experience Juniper Springs is to kayak or canoe it! You start off with just enough water to "float your boat" and end up with in a substantial river, traveling through Juniper Prarie Wilderness. You can rent canoes there and it'll take about 4 hours to paddle the 7 1/2 mile run. You can take your ice chest for a picnic lunch and they have platforms where you can pull over to lunch. DON'T SWIM IN THE WATERS-Gators. The park has a shuttle service to pick you and your boats up to return back to the park. You'll be in the heart of Old, Wild Florida!!

What a kind thing to do, Tree Hugger, give us a whole tantalizing adventure like that, served up on a platter. I will surely keep it in mind for a future visit. This trip really hooked me and the kids on Florida. All the sweeter because I'd never really understood the attraction, having seen only the Ft. Meyers area and thinking the whole place. Like Pineyflatwoodsgirl, I think rooting around is the way to go.

I learned during a lecture on these leisure-loving beauties that marine biologists distinguish one manatee from another based on the different scar patterns on their backs. I suppose the boaters in FL just cannot read the "NO WAKE signs as they tear through the waters - and manatee flesh. So sad.

I know Treehugger, she's an old friend of mine and she is absolutely correct on her trip advice.
Juniper and Alexander springs are two of our jewels.
As you know, I have been traveling lately and I too have a place for you to take Bill and the kids.
It's hard to describe, but I am going to spend a bunch of posts doing it.
And Jeff, the signs actually say,
"Manatee Zone Idle Speed Only".
Most of us do exactly that, only an idiot would speed through a manatee zone. Unfortunately, we in Florida have our share of the latter.
They move here in droves.

Them sireens are probably the ones that loved Pete up and turned him into a horny toad!

Julie I would be like you.. wanting to get in the water to get some manatee love. lol I admire these animals so much. To see them being cared for and protected like this just does my heart wonders. I've heard about this park and always wanted to go. Maybe one day! Thank you for sharing your day with us!

Great to see your manatee pictures, Julie! I am a long-time manatee "adopter" through the Save the Manatee Club, even though I have never actually seen a manatee. Can I put in a plug for the Save the Manatee Club, a non-profit organization that has done so much to protect this endangered species? The website is:

A few days before you posted this, I watched a DVRed episode of Sunrise Earth, a Discovery HD show (possibly cancelled) that presents hi-def footage of sunrises in real time. It was called Manatee Spring, and focused on the sea cows in Homosassa Springs. We were surprised to see them walking the spring floor on their front flippers. That prompted me to tell my boyfriend about your Manatee Love post a couple of years ago, and how that planted the seed of manatee fascination in my noggin.

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