I went on a manatee mission in Florida and got lucky. We had an article about manatees and read that there was a power plant in Ft. Myers with a Manatee Park. Our Florida vacation would not be complete without a visit to the discharge site of a power plant. It was February and I was birding at the Ding Darling Refuge on Sanibel Island, ventured over to Ft. Myers in pursuit of this unusual sea mammal.
Manatees are listed as endangered and vulnerable to extinction. So even though it was pouring rain so hard that we couldn’t always see through the windshield, and this strange little park was an hour out of our way, we thought we better go check it out before our chances of seeing this mammal in our lifetime narrowed even more.
Manatees are very large sea mammals that inhabit warm waters. There are several species in the world and they can be found in the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, South America and West Africa. In America the best place to see manatees is in Florida. They live along the Atlantic coast but in winter, from November to March, they seek out warm waters in rivers and canals.
They are about nine feet long and their weight is in the 1,000 pound range. They have hollow bones to help them float and come to the surface to breathe.With a primary diet of sea grass, they can be seen floating and feeding in the shallow, warm waters of Florida. Because they don’t have blubber, they perish in water that is colder than about 68 degrees. Distantly related to elephants, they are gargantuan with a rotund body, short stubby flipper limbs, a short snout, plaintive eyes, and a paddle-shaped tail.
We eventually found the pleasant small park on the property of the Florida Power and Light Company, and the rain stopped too, which was great. The manatees were swimming in brackish, warm discharge water that looked like tea water. As you can see from this photograph the water was cloudy, the manatees were difficult to see. The park advised visitors to wear polarized sunglasses for easier viewing, and even provided a large polarized lens for better photography. Good photos were impossible, but there are some great photos and a good article about manatees at this National Geographic site. This article also appeared in their April 2013 issue.
In this photo you can also see lots of scars and gashes on the manatee’s back. Unfortunately these are wounds from boat propellers. Of the several dozen adults we saw that day, every single one of them had scars. Manatees’ hearing range is high range, and boat motors come in on the low range, so manatees are unable to hear the boats. Because the manatees prefer shallow waters, and the canals where they eat and live are narrow, there is a conflict between these large mammals and speeding boaters. There are signs and warnings for boaters, but these don’t always help.
November is Manatee Awareness Month, according to one of my blogger friends Mungai and the Goa Constrictor. If you go to her link you will read more about how to help the manatees. I have another blogger friend, a Floridian and conservationist, who also has some great information and links about the manatees at Gator Woman.
A great deal of the trouble between humans and manatees is that they are so cool to watch that some folks love them too much. People want to swim with them, touch them, even (gasp) ride one. The manatee is a shy animal, it just wants to eat and protect its young. I think it should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, that it’s better if we leave the petting-squeezing-touching to our domestic household pets and let the wild creatures in this world live in peace.
If you ever do get the chance to see a manatee in the wild, you will be mesmerized. It was a big highlight of our south Florida trip. They are such a gentle creature, move slowly and just kind of bump along in the water, grazing grass. That sweet, harmless face says only one thing: “Hello neighbor.”