Magical Manatees

Keith and I took a short paddle on the Orange River today knowing the manatees would still be hanging around after the extended cold spell we’ve had in SW Florida during the past few weeks. The sky was overcast and it was a bit breezy, but it was warmer than it’s been in weeks and it felt good to be back on the water.

As expected, the manatees were there in abundance, too. More than I’ve ever seen in one trip and in one place. They migrate to the warm waters near the FPL power plant effluent canal, especially when the water temps elsewhere get cold. As we paddled – well, we really floated down stream at least, because the wind and current were brisk – we watched as rounded manatee backs hovered at the surface, listened to the familiar puff of air as they came up to exhale, and watched in wonder as their massive bodies (some were nearly as long as our 16-foot canoe and well over 1000 lbs.) glided soundlessly around and under our canoe.

There were adults and babies, singles and bunches, almost all scarred with unique patterns caused by encounters with motor boat propeller blades.

At one point after we had put the canoe back on the truck and walked over to the viewing area at Manatee Park, we heard one loud splash, then saw a second splash  a couple hundred feet away. Then immediately and simultaneously 50 or more manatees stretched over 100 yards of canal dove deep leaving a raucous echo of splashes and swirls on top of the water. A warning had apparently been issued and every one of them took cover. It was quite a sight.

As always, with our weekend forays into the woods and on the water, this one left us feeling content and enriched for having spent some time among the fascinating creatures of the wild. Maybe one day we’ll head north to spend a winter day on the Crystal River to see the manatees gathered there.

When did you last see a manatee in the wild? Where were you?


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