Location: Homosassa Springs, Florida
by Wayne Brown
Today we returned to Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park. There was a lot going on at the park today and we had a lot of people to meet and talk to. (You can meet them to! Click on "Meet the Manatee Kids" or "Meet the Manatee Experts".)
When we got to the park there were lots of boats outside the park in Blue Waters, in Homosassa River, to bring people to swim with the manatees that are just outside the springs that flow from the park. Before the park opened we had a chance to talk to a local veterinarian who is one of the most knowledgeable manatee veterinarians in the world, Dr. Mark Lowe. We first met Dr. Lowe during our manatee rescue on Day 4. Dr. Lowe has been working with manatees since 1989. Dr. Lowe was just a regular veterinarian until he moved to Florida. He worked on dogs, cats, horses, and other animals that people had for pets in the area. Dr. Lowe knew about manatees, but had never really met one. He did not really think manatees were very interesting animals. He thought they were just big, ugly, "slugs". His first meeting with a manatee changed his feelings forever.
Dr. Lowe was called to Homosassa Wildlife Park to do a medical checkup on one of the manatees. When he waded in the water, Rosie the manatee came over to him, put her lips around his hand and gave him a hug with her flippers. It was then that Dr. Lowe fell in love with manatees. Now manatees are Dr. Lowe's favorite animal! Dr. Lowe found out that manatees are gentle and interesting animals. He also discovered that manatees were not the big, dumb "slugs" that he first thought. He found out that the manatees are smarter than dogs or cats. He told us manatees are probably as smart as pigs.
Dr. Lowe has discovered some of the natural causes of manatee sickness and death. Manatees have a very strong immune system. Manatees very seldom get sick and die. Occasionally, though, a few manatees can catch pneumonia and die. Manatees, also, don't seem to get cancer. The most common natural cause of death in a manatee is cold stress. Cold stress is a problem, especially for juvenile manatees that have trouble finding the warm water springs. When the water gets below 68F the manatees start looking for warm water. When the water gets to be 55F, or below, the manatees stop and don't do anything. They don't even eat. If the manatee can't get to warm water the manatee will die.
A couple of years ago 156 manatees died suddenly. Dr. Lowe discovered that the manatees died from red tide. Red tide is where plankton dies and becomes poisonous. The manatees had swallowed some of the red tide when they were feeding.
The newest problem for manatees is the papilloma virus. This is the first active virus found in manatees. Dr. Lowe discovered this virus in manatees two years ago. This virus just causes worts like a lot of humans have. Fortunately this virus only causes little, tiny white worts on the manatees' skin and doesn't really affect the manatees' health. But, in many animals papilloma worts can develop into cancerous tumors. As of yet, these tumors have not developed on manatees. This virus can be easily spread. Until Dr. Lowe and other scientists find out exactly what is going on with this virus all captive releases of manatees have been stopped.
Dr. Lowe just found out that mother and calf manatee that we rescued on Day 4 have the papilloma virus. These manatees have radio tracking tags on them so Dr. Lowe and other researchers can keep checking on the health of mother and calf. Hopefully this virus will not develop into anything serious.
70% of the manatee deaths are from natural causes, but 30% of the manatee deaths are caused by people. These include being hit by speeding boats and propellers, getting caught in fishing nets, and in lines for crab traps, and getting crushed in canal locks and flood control gates.
Today, at the park, Dr. Lowe is here with two other volunteers to give the manatees their vitamins. Dr. Lowe hand feed the manatees "elephant chow". This looks like giant chunks of dog food. It is designed for feeding elephants and has the vitamins elephants, and manatees, need. Fortunately the manatees love this stuff. When Dr. Lowe and his assistants get in the water the manatees all come around and surround them, like puppy dogs. It is funny to watch the manatees try to get the attention of Dr. Lowe. One manatee rolls over on her back and squirts water with her mouth. Other manatees swim up to Dr. Lowe and splash the water with their heads. Another manatee even swims up behind Dr. Lowe and sticks her head right up between his legs!
After spending most of the day at the park it was time for us to go back to our base, give you all this new information and get ready for our next day. Tomorrow we visit the Sirenia Project laboratories to find out about the latest manatee research that the scientists there are doing.
Its a boat traffic jam to swim with the manatees at Blue Waters, in Homosassa River, located just outside of the Wildlife Park.
Five manatees surround Dr. Lowe to have some "elephant chow".
Morning Air Temp: 50ºF
Afternoon Air Temp: 76ºF
Water Temp: 69ºF
Weather: Sunny with broken clouds
Miles traveled by kayak so far:
Total manatees seen so far: 56
Total mermaids seen so far: 6
Magellan GPS Location:
28º 53 minutes 30 seconds North latitude
82º 35 min. 38 sec. West longitude
Distance from Crystal River: 12 miles
Homosassa Springs Water Temp: 72ºF
Maximum Water Depth: 16.8 m
Water Salinity (salt in parts per thousand - ppt): 0.00 NaCl ppt
Water Density: 1.00
PHOTOS TAKEN SO FAR
(Above water): 200
(Above water): 994
Rolls of film shot
(36 exposures): 35 rolls