238 Florida Manatees

There were 238 West Indian "Florida" Manatees in Blue Spring today,

including this very inquisitive female that swam up to pose for the photographer.

Click on any image for a larger view

Manatees are large, intelligent, aquatic mammals.

Florida manatees (Trichechus manatus latirostris) are a subspecies of the

West Indian manatee (Trichechus manatus).

The Florida manatee is a relative of the elephant. They are grayish brown and have thick, wrinkled skin on which there is often a growth of algae. The manatee's front flippers help them steer, or sometimes crawl, through shallow water. They also have powerful, flat tails that help propel them through the water. Despite their small eyes and lack of prominent ears, manatees see and hear quite well.

Manatees are herbivores, with a diet consisting mostly of sea grasses and freshwater vegetation. There is no vegetation to speak of to feed the manatees in Blue Spring so they must venture into the cool waters of the St. Johns River to forage. Those waters are too cool at present to sustain these mammals so they spend much of their time during cool weather in Florida's warm water springs. Like other grazing animals, Florida manatees play an important role in influencing plant growth in the shallow rivers, bays, estuaries, canals and coastal waters where they live.

Despite the fact that Florida manatees are listed as endangered species throughout their range and protected by intersecting and overlapping Federal and State statutes, and notwithstanding the fact that Blue Spring is a spectacular natural feature, little has been done to protect the spring and its life-saving flow of warm 72° F (22° C), fresh water from relentless, reckless, and pointless development. Blue Spring is only accessible through one of the most sprawl-ridden cities in Central Florida (Orange City).

A ride into Orange City from I-4 along any of the access roads (SR 472, E. Graves Ave., Saxon Blvd., Dirksen Drive) is a ride through litter strewn roadways and back-to-back strip malls built atop sensitive sand hills that could barely support the springs before millions of humans flocked to the areas in the past 20 years. It is development for the sake of development. . . more sprawl to entice more development to induce a larger tax base. The natural environment does not figure into these political decisions.

A boardwalk through the hammock at Blue Spring.

The 2,600 acre park seems a world away from the strip-mall haven

of Orange City, only a few miles to the east.

Manatee Cleaning Station

This manatee was resting at a floating dock receiving a cleaning

from a school of hungry brim or bluegills (Lepomis macrochirus).

Sabal Palms (the Florida State Tree) along the Blue Spring Run.

Many species of fish had also sought refuge in the warm waters of Blue Spring. Here a school of tarpon (Megalops atlanticus) move toward the spring boil.

The boil at Blue Spring, or the cavern from which the water flows, hosted at least a dozen manatees who had made their way down the extremely shallow run to bask in the warmth and protection of this terminus of the Blue Spring run. This was perhaps the lowest water level I had ever seen at Blue Spring. The manatees at times appeared to be working together to dig a canal toward the spring boil.

Above: The reason for all this activity in Blue Spring is the persistent cold air that has descended over the Florida peninsula in the past couple of weeks. The red circles above indicate freezing temperatures shortly after midnight on January 23, 2014. While the area of Blue Spring has not experienced sub-freezing temperatures this year it has been persistently cold enough to make the waters of the St. Johns River unsuitable for the survival of the manatees. Manatees cannot survive in waters cooler than 60° F (15° C). The St. Johns River near Blue Spring was 57° F today (14° C).

Manatee Island

Above: In several places along the run the manatees were working together to dig holes in the shallow water. . .or were they just playing? Regardless, they resembled their close cousins, elephants, when grouped in masses of 10 - 20 individuals.

Manatees are capable of understanding discrimination tasks, and show signs of complex associated learning and advanced long term memory. They demonstrate complex intelligence similar to dolphins and all other marine mammals.

Caroline Kennedy photo by Joanne Ciccarello/The Christian Science Monitor


Thank-you Japanese Ambassador, Caroline Kennedy, for speaking out against Japan's slaughter of marine mammals. It is long past time for a United States government official to tell the Japanese that their practice of murdering marine mammals is unacceptable. Who better than the new Ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy, to speak to the heinous slaughter perpetrated by Japan upon marine mammals. While her remarks were little more than a tweddle in the side of the butchers in Tokyo and Taiji, it was a start.

Her words from Jan. 17, 2014 tweet "Deeply concerned by inhumaneness (sic) of drive hunt dolphin killing. USG (sic; United States Government) opposes drive hunt fisheries."

Japan continues to defend the extermination of whales and dolphins for "scientific and cultural" reasons. Ms. Kennedy spoke directly to the inhumanness of the Japanese practice.

More on this story:


The Cove: A View To the Japanese Kill

Help Stop the Senseless Slaughter by Japan: Cove Guardians

Caroline Kennedy Tweedles Japan over Dolphin Slaughter

A Star Envoy's Frankness Puts Kennedy Mystique to Test in Japan

No humans are allowed in the waters of Blue Spring between November 15 and March 15 in order to protect the manatees. Humans are advised to check out the Manatee Cam at Save the Manatee Club if they wish to see what it looks like under the water:


Above and Below: I am especially fond of the young manatees and their delightfully playful behavior.

Below: A family basks in the warm Florida sun on an otherwise cool day. The high temperature today was 53° F (11½° C). The sun only rose to a relatively shallow 42.1° in the southern sky. Still, that is a decent enough elevation to create some warmth despite the cool airmass. Consider that today the sun only rose to 30° in New York and 28.8° in Chicago.

The nearer the St. Johns River the more opaque the water. Still, many manatee were visible hanging out very near where the spring run flows into the cool river. Presumably they rush out for some fresh vegetation and then rush back into the warm waters of the spring.

Below: A sabal palm had fallen into the spring run and was a popular spot for passing manatees who completely stripped the palm fronds from the downed tree.

Very close to the St. Johns River a couple of manatees came up to gawk at the gawking photographer.

So how did I know there were 238 manatees in Blue Spring today? I could have checked out the latest manatee update at SAVE THE MANATEE CLUB, which counted between 277 and 328 over the past few days. But I referred to the big bulletin board at the park entrance which noted how many individual manatees park staff had recorded that morning.