A manatee smiles for the camera as a researcher observes. (©Laura Osteen)
'Tis the season for manatees, Florida's beloved water mammals. As our temperatures cool a bit in November, manatees leave the bays, canals and rivers around the state and slowly make their way to warmer inland springs which maintain a constant temperature through the winter months. For visitors to Orlando, this change in weather means exciting manatee encounters as they come home for the holidays.
Less than an hour's drive away at Blue Spring State Park, the crystal-clear water remains 73 degrees year-round. Blue Spring is the largest spring in Florida's longest river, the St. Johns, which runs 310 miles from the Northeast coast. Each year hundreds of manatees can make their way to this welcoming winter home. Because of the great number of massive and mild-mannered endangered species that arrive here each year, the area has been designated a manatee refuge.
What You Should Know:
- Blue Spring State Park can get very busy, so arrive early before it reaches capacity.
- Admission is $6 per vehicle, and cabin rentals are also available.
- Manatees are thought to have been around for 45-million years.
- Manatees spend six to eight hours each day eating and up to 12 hours a day resting.
- Pioneers in the late 1800s killed manatees for their fat and meat, and they were hunted again during the Great Depression when there was a shortage of other food sources.
- State and national protection laws went into place when the population dwindled, and numbers have been steadily rising over the past several decades.
- To help the manatees, visitors should abide local laws, keep their distance and refrain from feeding them, and they can make a donation to the Save the Manatee program.
Other Places to Visit:
If you're pressed for time and aren't able to spare a day from the theme parks, you can actually visit these amazing creatures at SeaWorld Orlando and at Epcot, which both serve as licensed wildlife rehabilitation centers for manatees. Each year, Disney’s Animal Programs support the rescue and rehabilitation of more than 1,000 injured and orphaned wild animals. The Seas with Nemo & Friends at Epcot is a designated rehabilitation site for rescued manatees. You can observe the manatees and watch as they devour an entire salad bar of lettuce during feeding times. SeaWorld is the global leader in the rescue and rehabilitation of manatees with a rescue team on call 365 days a year and 24 hours a day. A $30 behind-the-scenes tour at the Orlando park allows animal lovers to learn more about these amazing creatures from experts.