Manatee Watching

by: Doug Alderson, Outdoor & Nature Expert

Manatees. They have a unique lure. As a follow-up to my earlier visit (and blog) on the subject, I awakened before sunrise on a recent frigid Saturday (a real effort for me) and drove to Wakulla Springs State Park. The front gatekeeper had just arrived and I was fortunate to meet a maintenance man at the swimming area who was kind enough to open the gate for me, since the swimming area isn't normally open until around 9 o'clock. I had the tower-and about twenty manatees in the spring bowl-to myself.

Blowing on my hands to keep warm, I set up my camera and watched as the slumbering crew below me began to stir. Some sleeping manatees lay on the bottom while most simply lay motionless face down, their bulbous backs looking like strange holiday ornaments on the deep blue spring. Manatees typically rest two to twelve hours a day. Every few minutes, they would raise their snout to the surface to take a breath, before continuing their slumber. Manatees can hold their breath for up to twenty minutes when resting.  

A couple of the younger manatees awakened first (does this sound familiar?) and they gently nudged the adults. One rolled over on its back and it swam under the swimming rope this way, doing a type of manatee back stroke with its tail. I was able to snap a photo of this playful sea cow, and this was my favorite shot of the day. Some other manatees moved closer together and affectionately touched snouts. Do manatees kiss?

For the most part, manatees are really slow movers in the morning. I didn't see any feeding going on, but the more they began to stir, the more bubbles rose to the surface-sometimes large eruptions of bubbles. From my kayaking experience, I knew that manatees are real gas passers, and these ones in the spring bowl were no exception. Eating water plants all day has a drawback, I guess, perhaps akin to us eating cabbage for each meal. They do their share of contributing methane to the atmosphere. But this biological trait is easy to overlook. Manatees are simply fascinating to watch, even sleepy ones.

After about an hour, the cold-and especially a call of nature-prompted me to retreat from the tower. But I relished my brief glimpse into the manatee world.

To learn more about our native West Indian Manatee, check out websites of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Save the Manatee Club.  


Doug Alderson. Outdoor & Nature Expert from Tallahassee, FL Author:

Doug Alderson

Outdoor & Nature Expert


Doug Alderson is the author of several books, including Waters Less Traveled: Exploring Florida's Big Bend Coast (University Press of Florida 2005), The Vision Keepers: Walking for Native Americans and the Earth (Quest Books 2007), New Dawn for the Kissimmee River: Orlando to Okeechobee by Kayak (University Press of Florida, 2009), Encounters with Florida's Endangered Wildlife (University Press of Florida, 2010), and his newest book, Wild Florida Waters: Exploring the Sunshine State by Kayak and Canoe (Earthways Press, 2011). Additionally, his articles and photographs have been featured in magazines such as Sea Kayaker, Coast and Kayak, Wildlife Conservation, American Forests, Sierra, Mother Earth News and Shaman's Drum. He has won several state and national awards for his books and magazine features. Doug also works as the paddling trails coordinator for the Florida Office of Greenways and Trails.

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