FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Jan. 17, 2013
FLORIDA STATE PARKS WELCOME MANATEE VISITORS
~Manatees can be found in the warm spring waters at state parks each winter~
A manatee swims in the spring at Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park. Photo by Diana Berkofsky.
TALLAHASSEE –The Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Florida Park Service is proud to offer manatee viewing and manatee awareness events at select state parks where manatees congregate in the winter. The manatee is Florida’s official state marine mammal and is listed as endangered at the international, federal and state levels.
“We are pleased to help interpret the beauty of Florida manatees through viewing locations and educational programs at state parks for our visitors,” said Donald Forgione, DEP’s Florida Park Service Director. “These gentle giants remind us how important it is to protect and preserve Florida’s environment and the springs where the manatees gather.”
In winter, manatees gather in the warmer waters of Florida’s springs. Since they are a subtropical species, manatees cannot tolerate prolonged exposure to water temperatures below 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Springs water temperatures remain between 68 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit during all seasons. During the year, manatees migrate, traveling as far west as Texas and as far north as Virginia.
Manatees have several adaptations to help them thrive in Florida's waters. Manatees are herbivores and have "marching molars" for grinding down gritty seagrasses. They form new teeth at the back of their jaw that move forward over time. Calves nurse from their mother for up to two years, and only one calf is born every two to five years. Females are also known to spontaneously lactate - even females who have never given birth - to foster an orphaned calf.
Manatees are highly communicative, particularly mothers and calves, and often chirp, whistle or squeak at high frequencies to express fear or awareness of another manatee. Manatees are remarkably robust animals. They are renowned for fending off diseases and are frequently able to heal from severe trauma caused by boat strikes.
The following state parks offer manatee viewing areas and some are hosting manatee awareness events:
2100 W. French Avenue
Blue Spring State Park covers more than 2,600 acres, including the largest spring on the St. Johns River. Blue Spring is a designated Manatee Refuge and the winter home to a growing population of West Indian Manatees. The spring and spring run are closed during Manatee season, mid-November through March. The best times to view manatees at Blue Spring are early in the morning and on days immediately after a cold snap. Manatee viewing from the wildlife overlooks and summer swim dock is excellent during the winter months. If you can’t make it out to the park, check out the Blue Spring State Park and Save the Manatee Club Wild Manatee Cam.
On Jan. 26 and 27, join Blue Spring State Park for the 28th Annual Orange City Blue Spring Manatee Festival at Valentine Park. Activities for the whole family include zoo presentations, arts and crafts, dancing, face painting, food, entertainment and more. Admission to the Festival includes a free shuttle to Blue Spring State Park to see manatees.
11650 N.W. 115th Street
Manatee Springs State Park will host a variety of featured guests on Saturday, Jan. 19, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. as part of its celebration of Manatee Awareness Month. With the cooler weather, the featured guest will be the manatee, along with partners in manatee protection awareness, education and enforcement. Various agencies will have booths set up so visitors can enjoy learning about the “gentle giants” and how to protect them. Activities for the Saturday program are free with a paid park admission, $6 per vehicle up to eight people.
4150 S. Suncoast Boulevard
Visitors can see West Indian manatees every day of the year from the park's underwater observatory in the main spring. This elevated boardwalk starts at the park entrance and surrounds the main spring to the Fish Bowl underwater observatory. The viewing area is glass-fronted with bleachers and a space up front for wheelchair-accessible viewing during manatee programs. During the winter months with the gate open in the Long River bridge, the wild manatees have access to the warmer waters of the first-magnitude spring. On colder days, you may see dozens of wild manatees in the spring and spring run. The park's resident manatees enjoy a large section of the spring run including the in-ground rehabilitation pool. Three manatee interpretive programs are offered daily.
465 Wakulla Park Drive
Winter wildlife is abounding right now along the river including migratory ducks and an expanding manatee population, meaning your river boat tour will give you an incredible wildlife viewing encounter.
If you're fortunate enough to encounter one of these beautiful creatures in the wild, make sure to be aware of the following guidelines:
- Look, but don't touch or feed manatees.
- Do not pursue or chase a manatee.
- Give manatees space to move. Don't isolate or single out an individual manatee from its group, and don't separate a cow from her calf.
- Avoid excessive noise and splashing if a manatee appears in your swimming area.
- Use snorkel gear when attempting to watch manatees. The sound of bubbles from scuba gear may cause manatees to leave the area.
- Abide by the posted speed zone signs while in areas known to have manatees present or when observations indicate manatees might be present.
- Wear polarized sunglasses to reduce glare on the surface of the water and make manatees more visible to you.
- Remain at least 50 feet away from a manatee when operating a powerboat.
- Don't operate a boat over large concentrations of manatees.
- Don't discard monofilament line, hooks or any other litter into the water.