This story brought to you for free by:

Manatees on the move: Cooler weather brings gentle giants to springs, but boaters should be on the lookout for sea cows

Coffee and manatees — Emily Johnson, who is visiting from Pennsylvania, sips coffee while watching manatees in the spring run at Blue Spring State Park on a cold morning Jan. 4.

Coffee and manatees — Emily Johnson, who is visiting from Pennsylvania, sips coffee while watching manatees in the spring run at Blue Spring State Park on a cold morning Jan. 4.

BEACON PHOTOS/LEAH POUGH

Snowbird gazes at manatees — Pat Michney, a snowbird from Michigan, watches a group of manatees with joy as they move closer to the spring Jan. 4.

Snowbird gazes at manatees — Pat Michney, a snowbird from Michigan, watches a group of manatees with joy as they move closer to the spring Jan. 4.

Family, Friends and manatees — Phyllis Sweeney from Flagler Beach and Meg Cook from Columbia, South Carolina, pose in front of a group of manatees while their husbands take pictures nearby Jan. 4.

Family, Friends and manatees — Phyllis Sweeney from Flagler Beach and Meg Cook from Columbia, South Carolina, pose in front of a group of manatees while their husbands take pictures nearby Jan. 4.

An abundance of manatees — “Manatees migrate closer to the spring, where the water is warmest,” says Gift Shop employee Zach Sisk. On Jan. 4, 367 manatees were at the park, due to the cold temperature.

An abundance of manatees — “Manatees migrate closer to the spring, where the water is warmest,” says Gift Shop employee Zach Sisk. On Jan. 4, 367 manatees were at the park, due to the cold temperature.

Cooler weather is causing Florida’s manatees to seek refuge in warmer waterways around the state, including the spring run at Blue Spring State Park near Orange City.

To help protect the sea cows while they are on the move, many seasonal manatee-protection zones went into effect Nov. 15. But year-round, boaters are generally limited to slow speeds along most of the St. Johns River, and in near-shore portions of lakes George, Dexter, Woodruff, Beresford and Monroe.

Some stretches of the river and those lakes have boating speeds of 30 mph in the day and 25 mph at night, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Though some signs identifying manatee zones may have been damaged by Hurricane Irma, information about the locations is also online. If you see damaged waterway signs, report them at MyFWC.com/Boating by clicking on “Waterway Management,” “Waterway Markers” and then “Damaged/Missing Waterway Markers.”

Blue Spring State Park, home to the largest spring on the St. Johns River, is a designated manatee refuge and the winter home to a growing population of West Indian manatees. During manatee season, which runs from approximately mid-November through March, several hundred manatees can be viewed from the spring’s overlooks on cold days.

A park employee told The Beacon more than 300 manatees were in the spring run on one recent chilly day.

The Blue Spring spring area and run are closed to all water activity from mid-November to at least mid-March. Swimming or diving with manatees is not permitted, a rule that is strictly enforced.

 

How you can help

Earlier this year, the Florida manatee was reclassified from endangered to a threatened status under the federal Endangered Species Act, in a decision announced by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

While this indicates progress in protecting the species, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said there is still work to be done.

FWC offers these tips to help make a difference in protecting manatees:

Watch for these large aquatic mammals as they search for warmer waters to help them survive winter’s cold, which they generally find in freshwater springs and the outflow of power plants.

Wear polarized sunglasses to help you spot manatees moving, grazing and resting in the water. Keep a lookout for the circular “footprints” the sea cows leave on the surface of the water.

Slow down when boating, and follow the rules for posted manatee zones.

Observe manatees from a distance to limit disturbing them.

Report injured, entangled, orphaned or dead manatees to the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline: 888-404-FWCC (3922), #FWC or *FWC on your cellphone, or text Tip@MyFWC.com.

 

WANT TO SEE MANATEES?

Where: Blue SpringState Park

Why: Its 72º water provides a winter home to lots of manatees.

Address: 2100 W. French Ave.,Orange City

Hours: The park is open from 8 a.m. until sundown, 365 days a year. Arrive early, as there is sometimes a line to get in the park on nice days.

Phone number: 386-775-3663

 

— Joe Crews, joe@beacononlinenews.com

Rate this article: 
No votes yet