Manatee Season Begins!
By Nancy Sadusky, Director of Online Communications
In November, the weather started to cool down in Florida, and that meant the return of manatees to warm-water sources throughout the state, such as Blue Spring State Park. The season started on November 7, and we were pleased to see the return of all the adoptees and other familiar faces.
Blue Spring State Park is located in Orange City, Florida, and is centered around a natural spring that maintains a constant 72°F (22°C) temperature. The spring is a designated refuge area for manatees traveling the St. Johns River system. Manatees can’t tolerate water temperatures below 68°F (20°C) for long periods of time, and they gather near natural springs or warm water effluents of power plants when the weather turns cool.
On most winter mornings, you’ll find Wayne Hartley, Save the Manatee Club’s (SMC) Manatee Specialist, in a canoe slowly paddling the spring run at Blue Spring State Park while doing “manatee roll call.” Wayne has been keeping track of the manatees at the park since 1980. He is assisted by Cora Berchem, SMC’s Director of Multimedia and Manatee Research Associate. “Cora and I participate in a life history study of the manatees at Blue Spring,” said Wayne. “The heart of the study is to re-recognize the individual manatees as they come in each season. This is done by keeping track of the manatee’s boat scars with photographs and drawings. Scar patterns heal, and new ones are suffered so even the well-documented manatees have to be frequently re-photographed.”
Although the season officially started on November 7, there were some manatee visitors before that time. During October, adoptees Annie and her calf, Nick, Lily, and Lucille dropped in. By early November, there were several mothers and calves, and Gator had been spotted. Phyllis, Howie, and Moo Shoo and her calf came in to join Lucille, Annie, and Gator for the second day of the season.
On November 9 and 10, the river temperature dropped and over 200 manatees were counted each day! Paddy Doyle, Brutus, Aqua, Margarito, Philip, and Una made their first appearances of the season. It was especially nice to see Una. She had been released in September 2020 after being treated for severe entanglement in fishing line. Wayne and Cora have kept busy counting and identifying the manatees. As of November 30, they had seen 603 individuals. At least 345 of them were returns from last year, and 69 were calves.
Save the Manatee Club webcams were also up and livestreaming. “Besides being a fun, entertaining tool for the general public,” said Cora, “they provide us with important data for the research, such as taking additional photos for scar-ID and getting footage of manatees we may be concerned about. “
Cooling water temperatures in mid-November brought more manatees in. Adoptees Flash, Nick, and Lesley showed up on November 15, and Wayne and Cora believe Lesley is pregnant! This is particularly good news, as Lesley was released last January after almost three years in rehabilitation. She had suffered a boat strike and subsequent infection and needed several surgeries. We are pleased she seems to be doing well.
On November 17, “Schwinn” the manatee also made a welcome appearance. He is the manatee who became encircled in a bicycle tire in 2019. After several unsuccessful rescue attempts, Schwinn mysteriously returned last winter sans tire. “Obviously the scar will always be significant,” said Cora. “But he seems to be holding weight and made it through another summer, which is promising. Also, we finally confirmed via our webcam footage that Schwinn is a male!” (The genital opening on a male manatee is just below the umbilicus or belly button.)
By November 19, Annie’s calf, born last spring, appeared to be weaned and on its own. “We believe she decided to wean it early,” said Wayne. “We have not seen Annie with a calf for some time.”
In late November, the river temperature dropped again, and Paddy Doyle, Floyd, Doc, Rocket, and Merlin were all seen on November 24, along with Millie, an adoptee from the east coast of Florida. Lenny made his first season visit on Thanksgiving. Whiskers followed on Friday, November 26, and Deep Dent completed the list of adoptees present for the season on November 27. As of November 30, Wayne and Cora had seen 603 individuals. At least 345 of them were returns from last year, and 69 were calves.
At the end of manatee season, Wayne and Cora will submit their scar sketches, pictures, and genealogies from Blue Spring for inclusion in the statewide Manatee Individual Photo-Identification System (MIPS) database. Save the Manatee Club is one of several agencies and organizations throughout the state that conduct this research.
Be sure to watch the manatees on the webcams and follow Wayne and Cora’s reports to get updates on other adoptees and Blue Spring manatees throughout the season!