Outdoors: Finally saw manatees, and they are cool

I’ve been at this writing gig for a long, long time. And along with the accumulations of words put first on paper, then on computer screens have been numerous “adventures” — most having to do with something in the outdoors.

There have been hikes (in my younger days, of course), car trips, boat tours and a bazillion fishing trips. Naturally, there have been many sights I have not seen in my time, since I’m not exactly a world traveler. But when there is something I want to see in my own backyard, so to speak, I try to get there sooner or later.

So on a trip to Florida last year I had hoped to make a stop at Silver Springs. That’s where they operate the famous glass bottom boats in which you float around and watch marine life below. For one reason or another I didn’t get there.

Actually, my parents took me to Silver Springs as a small child — I think I was 5 — and I actually remember experiencing the glass bottom boats. But on last year’s trip I wasn’t wanting to see the glass bottom boats or the fish swimming beneath them. I’ve seen plenty of fish. What I really wanted to see was a manatee.

I’d seen them on TV and in magazine and newspaper pictures, but I had never seen a manatee with my own eyes up close if not so personal. So on a recent trip to Florida, determined to see a manatee, I called Silver Springs State Park and asked when the best time to see a manatee would be. But the lady there said they don’t get many manatees. Wow, glad I didn’t drive over there.

The next day I was chatting on the phone with my buddy Bill Reinke (in Ohio), the retired photographer extraordinaire who also knows about all things Florida. He suggested I check out Blue Springs State Park. A quick check on the Web and I knew that’s exactly where I wanted to go.

On a sunny and low-70s day my wife Pat and I wound our way through the tree-lined roads to Blue Springs State Park. After paying the $6-per-car fee to enter the park (yes, they charge at Florida parks), we walked down to a large observation deck overlooking a shallow, wide channel containing 40 or 50 manatees. Finally.

What wonderful, mysterious creatures. They move so slowly, but they do get around. We saw them coming and going, back toward the river, more than likely to grab a snack.

You can see why manatees are also called “sea cows,” because they kind of remind you of a big old cow grazing on the bottom, even though they are more closely related to elephants.

To me they’re fun to watch, even though their movements are very methodical. I guess to some it would be a little like watching paint dry, but not to me. Manatees are cool.

The thing is, manatees are endangered, both by federal and Florida law. They are huge, but at the same time fragile, susceptible to propeller strikes, infection and disease. One of the biggest threats is cold water. When it’s less than 60 degrees they get cold water stress that can be fatal. That’s why Blue Springs is perfect for them. It’s a constant 73 degrees.

If you would like to know more about the endangered manatees and how to help, visit savethemanatee.org/savethemanateecam. You can also see a live stream of Blue Springs.

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