Homoasassa Springs Wildlife Park
Location:Homosassa Springs, Florida
by Wayne Brown
Welcome back to another week of learning more about manatees and the Florida ecosystem were they live.
Today we were guaranteed to see manatees. No matter what time of year or water temperature, we can always find manatees at a very special place near Crystal River, the Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park. Located about 8 miles south of Crystal River, Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park is a Florida State Park that (except for a longtime resident hippopotamus, when the park was a privately owned commercial facility) contains only native Florida wildlife. The natural setting of this 166-acre park gives visitors a chance to see many of the plants and animals that are part of the Florida ecosystem. The animals that call the park home include birds, turtles, deer, river otters, snakes and alligators. Of course the most popular animals seen here are the manatees. The manatees live in the warm fresh water springs here in the park that are the headwaters of the Homosassa River. (On expedition Day 4 our manatee rescue was right next to the park!) Out of the spring flows about 6 million gallons of water every day! The Homosassa River is fenced off from the large area around the springs so the manatees stay here all year round.
Homosassa Springs is a secondary care center for manatees. (Primary care canters medically treat injured and sick manatees. Secondary care centers are where manatees go after they are treated and before they are released into the wild.) Manatees that are rescued and rehabilitated are brought here to get them used to the natural environment again, before they are released. Some of the manatees here will never be able to survive on their own in the wild, so they will call the springs in this park home.
Normally visitors here may see the manatees close-up in a large floating underwater observatory. We were given the special privilege of getting in the water with these manatees to take their pictures. We also found out that we were also going to be entertaining the manatees, too!
9:15 AM - We arrived at the park and park ranger Mike Hogan was there to meet us. Ranger Mike was to be our guide and assistant as we met the manatees here. We unloaded all our photo equipment on a small platform sticking out over the edge of the spring. We put on our wet suits, prepared our cameras and got ready to get up close and personal with the manatees!
With manatees in these springs year-round the manatees have eaten all the plants in the river and springs here, so there is nothing for them to eat...No problem! In the water, next to the spring, is a gigantic salad bar! It's called the "floating salad bar". You would not want to have a manatee in front of you at the salad bar at Sizzler's, because a manatee would clean the place out before you got there! A manatee can eat up to 200 pounds of plants a day! (The next time you go to an all-you-can-eat salad bar, look at the fine print...It says, "except for manatees!" ) The park rangers feed the manatees the same vegetables and fruits you would find at a Sizzler's salad bar, lettuce, cabbage, kale, spinach, broccoli, collard greens, green peppers, carrots, oranges, and bananas. Manatees like many different kinds of vegetables, but they don't like celery!
We get into the water and swim into the spring. The spring is over 40 feet deep and is filled with all sorts of schooling fish. The fish don't seem to be scared of the huge manatees, because they seem to know the manatees will not try to eat them.
When we swam into the spring the manatee were just swimming out of their floating salad bar after breakfast. When they see us they decide it is now playtime and we are their playmates. If manatees are generally friendly these were down right affectionate! It was hard to take their pictures because they were really in our face! It is hard to take pictures of manatees when their faces are smooshed up against the front of your camera. When we would try move away to get a picture they would follow us and gang up on us. The water depth away from the spring was only about 4 feet deep. I just took off my fins, so I could easily walk around on the bottom of the river. When the manatees would come too close I would walk backwards to move away from the manatees for a better picture. The manatees weren't going to let me get away from them that easily. One manatee laid down on the river bottom, behind me, so I could not move backwards. Another manatee wedged herself in front of me, pinning me against the other manatee. Another manatee laid on top of the manatee behind me, so I could slide over the back of that manatee. I was a human-manatee sandwich! Now that the manatees had me right where they wanted me it was my job to scratch them. I had my camera in one hand, so I only had one hand free to scratch three manatees. I figured out a way to scratch all three at the same time, though. With my free hand I scratched the back of the manatee in front of me. My other hand was on the camera, so I scratched the manatee right behind me with my elbow. The third manatee was laying on the bottom against my legs, so I bent my knees and scratched her back by rubbing my rear end back and forth across her back!
Manatees are very lovable, gentle creatures. Without a place like Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park the manatees here would probably not be alive today. Unfortunately, there are very few places like Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park that can care for manatees who are no longer able to care for themselves. With more manatees being injured every year from collisions with boats there is an increasing need for more long term care centers. Fortunately other zoos and aquariums are opening their doors to care for manatees. In California, we now have manatees at Sea World, San Diego. During the manatee rescue we met some people from the Cincinnati, Ohio who will be bringing manatees to their zoo, too. If you have never seen a manatee, in the future you may be able to see some manatees living in a zoo near you!
We were in the water with the manatees for most of the day and would have been with them longer except for a problem...
HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM, AGAIN!
(This is the Apollo 13 of Internet expeditions!)
I was getting out of the water to change film in my camera when Karen told me about an emergency she was having. The underwater housing for the digital camera had flooded with water and the camera had gotten water inside of it! (Water and electronic equipment do not go together . That is why you should NEVER take your CD player swimming with you.) Well, we grabbed all of our equipment and zoomed back to Crystal River. When we got back to the Lodge I checked the camera. It didn't work. The LCD screen flickered briefly, then went out. We needed this camera and our expedition was not even half over yet! I went to work and turned the dining room table into a camera operating room. (I know nothing about working on digital cameras, but I figure what difference does it make. It doesn't work, so how can I mess it up any more than it is!) My repair tools are a can of Dust Away air, toilet paper, miniature screwdrivers, Karen's hair dryer, and compact binoculars. (When flipped over and looked through backwards they make a passable magnifying glass.) The operation was a success...Well, not a total success, but a functional success. The camera takes pictures fine, but something happened the circuitry so the viewscreen display shows everything backwards. (This is like trying to take a picture of someone behind you while looking into a mirror.) I'll be happy as long as the camera works until the end of the expedition.
Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park is in a natural Florida forest. The springs in the park are the beginning of the Homosassa River.
Karen and I in the Homosassa Springs with some of our manatee pals. (Notice one in front of me and one to the right side of Karen).
This manatee is patiently waiting for me to scratch her back. I tried to back up to take a picture, but the manatees would not let me get away without scratching them.
Here is a Wayne / manatee sandwich. These three manatees have me wedged in so can't get away. I am scratching one manatee with my free hand. I am scratching the back of the manatee behind me by rubbing my rear end on her back.
Time: 9:15 AM
Morning Air Temp: 50ºF
Afternoon Air Temp: 76ºF
Water Temp: 68ºF
Weather: overcast with high clouds, by afternoon cloud cover breaking up with sun peeking through
Total manatees seen so far: 46
PHOTOS TAKEN SO FAR
(Above water): 113
(Above water): 612
Rolls of film shot
(36 exposures): 21 rolls
Magellan GPS Location:
28º 53 minutes 30 seconds North latitude
82º 35 min. 38 sec. West longitude
Homosassa Springs Water Temp: 72ºF
Maximum Water Depth: 16.8 m
Water Salinity (salt in parts per thousand - ppt):
Spring: 0.00 NaCl ppt