manatees

Hundreds Of Manatees Converge On Three Sisters Spring, Prompting Shutdown Of Waterway

Manatees converged by the hundreds at Three Sisters Spring in Florida. Water access to the state park along the Crystal River was forced to close after the massive herd swam into the area. The natural Florida spring closed the waterway to protect the mammals from being disturbed while nesting and attempting to warm themselves in the shallow waters of the spring.

The 300 or so manatees that decided to make Three Sisters Springs their temporary home were enjoying the 72-degree water while waiting for the chill of winter to pass. The mammals were seen huddling together to maximize the body heat after they arrived at the natural Florida spring. Manatees grow up to 13 feet long and commonly weigh about half a ton.

During an interview with CNN, Florida Fish and Wildlife Service specialist Ivan Vicente said that manatees sleep for more than an entire day during a process which is similar to a bear hibernating in a cave. When the mammals do wake up during the short cool days of winter, they exhibit only minor movements and engage in very little activity.

The stress of cold water is reportedly a fatal threat to manatees. The mammals can suffer from hypothermia if they are left in waters that dip below 65 degrees. Manatees could one day soon be removed from the endangered species list, but both state and federal wildlife officials plan on continuing efforts to protect the species during the winter.

Three Sisters Springs is a series of three springs consisting of multiple sand boils, spring water, and vents. When a vast amount of manatees come into the area to escape the winter chill, the waterways are closed to visitors. The Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge noted on Facebook that the spring will stay closed until at least Thursday. The staff at the refuge will review the status and conditions of the mammals in the morning.

If the number of mammals decreases at Three Sisters Springs, then it could be reopened to recreational traffic. With more unseasonably cold weather in store for the Sunshine State, the number of mammals at the spring could actually increase. In 2010, approximately 500 manatees swam into the spring in search of warmth. During the same winter, about 5 percent of the manatees in Florida died from exposure to the cold and stress, the Daily Mail reports.

Currently, there are about 6,000 manatees residing in Florida. Even though manatees are known to be docile and not pose a danger to people, the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge staffers still advise swimmers to give the gigantic creatures plenty of space while sharing the same waters. The mammals graze on plants that grow in shallow waters of bays, canals, rivers, estuaries, and coastal waterways.

Three Sisters Springs has long been a spot where manatees have come to mate, give birth, and nurse their young, according to the state park website. The natural Florida spring is reportedly the only place in the United States where it is legal to enter the water with manatees. The West Indian manatees that inhabit the Citrus County waterways are related to the West African manatees or the “dugong.” The now-extinct mammals were also referred to as Steller’s sea cow.

The word manatee is derived from a Carib word meaning “breast.” The name likely was given as a reference to the manner in which an infant manatee suckles at its mother’s breast while nursing.

Would you like to go swimming with manatees?

[Image via Shutterstock.com]

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