In the Water with Manatees!
Location:Crystal River, Florida
by Wayne Brown
Today we worked with manatee researchers in the water with manatees! We got up early, before the sun came up, and gathered all our cameras and snorkeling equipment to meet the researchers at the dock where their research boat is tied up. The air was cold, but the water was warm and we could see the steam coming off the water. We got into our wet suits before we got on the boat because the boat trip is only about 3 minutes! We worked with manatees at Banana Island in the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge. By the time we got to the manatee sanctuary (8:30 AM), in King Spring at Banana Island, there were already about 6 boats filled with tourists to look at the manatees!
We were with Mr. Dean Easton and Mrs. Susan Butler who are full-time manatee researchers for the Sirenia Project. (Click "Meet the Manatee Experts" to find out more about Mr. Easton and Mrs. Butler and other manatee researchers.) A lot of their time is spent in the project laboratory at the University of Florida, in Gainesville, Florida. Today they were here to work with the manatees in the wild. There were a lot of manatees here in King Spring, because it was cold the night before and the manatees come here to stay warm. Dean and Susan come to photograph manatee tails. Unfortunately all adult manatees in Florida have scars from being hit by boat propellers. Most of their scars are on their tails, so researchers have cataloged photographs of manatee tails to identify each manatee. (It is like identifying people using peoples' fingerprints.) Dean and Susan tell us that about 1,000 different manatee tails have been identified. Dean and Susan are using Nikonos underwater cameras to photgraph manatee tails. They also have plastic underwater slates with little blank manatee tails drawn on them. Dean and Susan use pencils to draw any special markings or scars they find on the manatee tails. On each tail they identify they also mark if it is a male or female. Dean is also carrying a special plastic underwater ruler so she can measure how long each manatee is.
Dean and Susan carefully anchored their small (about 20 feet long) research boat in the shallow water (about 3.5 meters deep) near King Spring. We all put on our masks, fins, and snorkels, gathered our equipment and cameras (Karen has the digital camera. I have two still cameras), and gently eased into the water.
In the springs their were a lot of manatees, and fish, too. We saw large schools of mullet and huge tarpon (about 3.25 meters long). While Dean and Susan were recording their data we were photographing them working, as well as photograping the manatees, too. We saw males, females, and mothers and their calves. We even saw mothers feeding their calves. Of course many of the manatees were around us and pushing so we would scratch them. One big manatee on one side of me and another on the other side of me and I was squished in between. It didn't hurt, though. It was just funny to watch them behave like puppy dogs so I would scratch them.
When we finally finished working with the manatees for the day we had seen 17 manatees. We even saw a mother nursing her calf!
We just got a call that a baby manatee is in danger and needs to be rescued!
Tomorrow come with us on a manatee rescue and find out what happened!
I am photographing Mrs. Butler at work. (See the two manatees laying at our feet, hoping they can get us to scratch them.)
Yes. They did get us to scratch them.
No, the calf is not attacking its' mother. The baby is nursing from its mother. The nipple where the milk comes out is at the top edge of the mother's flipper.
Time: 3:00 PM
Morning Air Temp: 44ºF
Afternoon Air Temp: 74ºF
Water Temp: approx. 67ºF
Kings Bay Spring Water Temp: 72ºF
Weather: clear, sunny, light breeze, a few scattered puffy cloubs
Total manatees seen: 20
PHOTOS TAKEN SO FAR
(Above water): 19
(Above water): 104
Rolls of film shot
(36 exposures): 3 rolls