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Manatees, Breathing

Sunday, March 27, 2011

It was absolutely hypnotic, standing on the dock at Blue Springs, watching the manatees loll in the 72 degree waters. 

They aren't there because they're on vacation. They're in the warm springs because they'd die if they were anywhere else. I was very surprised to learn that prolonged exposure to water below 60 degrees will kill a manatee. They seem sort of blubbery; they seem like they'd be well-insulated, but no...they're delicate tropical beasties and they have to be warm.  Wintry temperatures (it went down to the 20's a lot in much of Florida this winter!) send them packing to power plant outflows and natural warm springs. Warm springs are why only Florida boasts wild manatees, and only Florida will  ever have them. Another reason to love Florida. She gives us so many gifts. Gators. Flamingoes. Manatees.

They'd come up for air with a tremendous whoosh, a sonorous inhalation, then submerge again, shutting their little nostril valves tight.

It was beautiful, standing there in the fog, listening to manatees breathing.

I tear up just thinking about it.

Ghostly tableaux one after another as the fog veiled through...sfffff whoooooof!

A lazy flipper or paddle-like tail would occasionally break the surface. I had to remind myself that these Schmoo-like creatures had bones.

Moving farther upstream, we came upon a mother and her calf. They were mouthing a rock, for what I couldn't divine. A nummy algal coating?

 The whole scene was magic, these big sweet beasts lolling around, placidly sucking on a rock, the palms catching the morning sun.

It was all I could do not to wade in with them, but they don't need more human contact. These are wild animals, and what humans mostly give them, aside from some lettuce and cabbage to eat and an occasional drink from a hose, is horrid white slashing propeller scars on their slow backs. More manatees die from boat collisions than any other single cause. The people who race through manatee zones are the same kind who shoot whooping cranes on purpose...society's filler, the soulless stratum, packing peanuts for brains.

 Manatees remind me of box turtles--just too slow for our inane and selfish pace. Somehow, they hang on.

This mother and child, as yet unmarked by scars. The older ones almost all have them.

All the while, the gentle whoosh of their breath breaking the stillness.

We could have stayed there all day with them, but our flight called and too soon we had to turn for home. You all know how I love Ohio, but I must confess she didn't show her best face as a biting 20-degree wind tore at our light tropical clothing at the Akron airport. Arrrgggh. Scrape the car free, get the heater blowing. Back to reality with a dash of ice in the face.

The whole trip floats like a dream in my head. I'll never look at Florida the way I did before I saw the Real Florida on this adventure. I'd made several trips to the Fort Meyers area, and I have to confess I was shellshocked by the crushing scale of development there. I never could have imagined living in Florida, with my pre-conceived notions of what it represented. And now, having experienced her wild places and met Floridians who love her passionately, even exploited and in some places ruined as she is, I understand. There is still a LOT of the Real Florida left, and Real Floridians are unstinting in their efforts to protect it.

 We are so lucky as a nation to have this funny footlike projection where, by dint of its subtropical climate, so much natural magic happens. Go. Just go. The Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival in late January is an excellent place to start exploring and, if necessary, renovating your feelings about FloridaCracker's "sweet, fragile Florida." For the most fun homework ever, get yourself reading his blog, Pure Florida. You'll thank me!

photo by Cap'n Denny

Don't worry. He let the redfish go. Well, this particular one. A guy's gotta eat.


I learn sooo much from you! You enrich my life through your posts. I'm disabled and can't travel even short distances. I therefore travel, visit friends and learn through your writings,photography,family and ChetBaker. Thank you all.

Hey Zick - very jealous of the atmosphere of your manatee experience. I saw them loitering about in the concrete surrounds of the flamingo boat doc. Super cool but without your fog, crystal clear waters and beautiful foliage. I also totally agree that everyone who gets the chance should take advantage of the real florida whilst they can.

Julie, you always help me to see things anew as you describle your experiences. I too have learned to love Florida in my ten years here, finding many differences from my preconceptions. Living in the remnant of what was once ranch country, I know Florida cowboys and cowgirls, and have learned to look around me for the things that others travel here to ferret out. Daily, I see limpkins, wood storks, seasonal Swallowtail Kites, alligators, wild boars, fox squirrels, manatees...and the amazing morphing skies of a Florida summer afternoon.
The manatees are not the only thing endangered by prolonged cold in FL...the people at wildlife refuges and management areas are often scrambling to shelter dying sea turtles. Manatees are obviously much more vulnerable, since less portable, but the sea turtles are something that volunteers can help to shelter till waters temps come up to tolerable levels.
The third article at this link outlines some of their winter woes.

I remember canoeing at Blue Springs thirty or so years ago. (No one saw a problem with such things then.) The manatees would drift right up to the canoes, then slowly sink out of sight. "Magical" is a good word to describe the experience.

Love FC! He's the best.

Perhaps the rock is their toothbrush.

Great article. I've lived in Florida 9 years now and have loved every day of it. I agree with you not wanting to swim with the manatees. I have friends who always say "we should go do that" and I just think "No, I don't need to do that. They have enough problems". Although one day I may give in.

Julie, you're pictures and words put me right there. I really enjoyed this post and have been enjoying going back through your blog. I appreciate your love of nature so much. There is another blog I like by a Florida blogger called Kayak Paddle Tales. She likes to paddle the Wacissa. Seems like it should be getting warm enough for her to get back in the water. Thank you for this lovely blog.

Amazing and interesting post......
The captures and place is really beautiful wish to go such place where environment and nature is with me......

Loved the manatees. Loved them. What a gloriously innocent creature. Super shots of them! This was a great blog entry, as usual. Gary

hey its your old cne club friend.........tierra centers! i miss you so much.i realy learned so much about the nature from you and i thank you for that it realy helped me out in life.and if you dont remeber me just try to remember back to the girl who gave the little piece of string when you acedently broke off a red bats leaf i gave you a piece of string to tye it back on to the tree.i really had alot of fun with you.i wish you could call me or come over to my place because i have alot of great nature around me that you take pictures of and so you could teach me how to take all those perfect pictures you took.if your wondering my adress is williamsburg ohio,45176,smokey road 5269and you met me in the 5th grade.hope you can come and hope to see you again but for now goodbye.<3

Posted by Anonymous April 8, 2011 at 6:09 PM
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