Manatee Madness

Hundreds Of Florida Manatees Close Down National Landmark

Manatees in winter, like so many other mammals, will huddle together to stay warm. However, it seems odd to think of body heat transmitting in an underwater environment. But that’s exactly what’s happening in Three Sisters Springs in Crystal River, Florida.

Manatees like to huddle together during high tide, according to USA Today. On Monday, a group of volunteers elected to count the manatees on Monday afternoon. Laura Ruettiman, an environmental education guide, told USA TODAY that there were some 300 of the water-lettuce-munching mermaids taking up residence together in the waters of the Springs.

“We have a record number this year. We have 150 more manatees here than have ever been recorded in the past.”

With so many manatees present, U.S. Fish and Wildlife elected to close the park. Ruettiman said the gathering was due to greater protection in the area and to habitat loss in other parts of Florida. The area was reopened on Tuesday, but will close again when the manatees return during next high tide. At 72 degrees, the springs are a lot more attractive than the colder waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The manatees huddle together as if cocooned in their fat, occasionally popping their heads up to breathe.

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“It’s almost like a bear hibernating in a cave,” Ivan Vicente, a visitor services specialist with the Fish and Wildlife Service, told CNN on Tuesday.

“They do sleep for over a whole day. When they do wake up, there’s very minor movements and very little activity, and then they just go back to sleep.”

Though they are considered an endangered species, manatees may soon be removed from the list. However, they are actually fragile creatures, and tend to lose weight in the cold. During a cold snap in 2010, about 5 percent of the manatee population died. Through 2013, between the cold temperatures and the toxic red tide bloom, hundreds of individuals were lost.

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The Save the Manatee Club does not believe the manatee is ready to be delisted. It states that the Fish and Wildlife Service for Florida’s decision is based on a computer model which “does not deal with loss of habitat due to waterfront development.”

“There is no long-term plan for the anticipated loss of artificial winter warm water habitat on which more than 60% of the Florida manatee population depends.”

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According to Katie Tripp, Ph.D. Director of Science & Conservation for Save the Manatee Club, more factors need to be considered before delisting the manatee. The increase in human population, more activity of boats and watercraft, and the loss of habitat all pose great threats to the species. “Hospital patients don’t get moved out of the ICU before the test results are in.

“Natural springs are threatened by potential reductions in flow and water quality… Power plants, which provide winter refuges for a majority of the Florida manatee population, are not permanent reliable sources of warm water.”

Known for its gentle and quiet nature, the manatee is a popular item for tourists. Swimming with one has a spot on millions of bucket lists.

The big, wrinkle-faced, paddle-tailed creature is a close relative of the elephant, and enjoys a peaceful existence of camaraderie with others in a herd. The average adult manatee is about 10 feet long and weighs up to 1800 pounds. Although migratory, they are slow-moving. They can swim up to 20 miles per hour in short bursts, but prefer not to. They go as far north as Massachusetts, but tend to hang out around the Carolinas and Florida.

A manatee can live up to 60 years. They tend to have one offspring every two to five years. Though they have no natural enemies, they have suffered a serious mortality rate due to collisions with boats. But currently their greatest threat is loss of habitat. For now, they will return, safe in the protection of Three Sisters Springs.

[Image via Gary Powell/Shutterstock]

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