Featured Image Credit: MATTHEW BECK/AP
By: Kira Krall
Florida’s recent cold snap sent the Sunshine State’s manatees running for cover. The air temperature dropped to 30 degrees and rapidly affected the waterways that the sea cows call home. While manatees appear to be bulky and fat, they have a very thin blubber layer that doesn’t do much to protect them from hypothermia. Florida’s freshwater springs stay a balmy 72 degrees all year round, a much-needed respite from the cold water temperatures. Three Sisters Spring in Crystal River, Florida, is one of the most famous seasonal manatee aggregations. Watch a video of the manatees gathering in the spring below!
Manatees are herbivores that feast on vegetation in the Gulf of Mexico. In true herbivore fashion, they forage for most of the day and have an elongated hindgut that takes up most of its body cavity space. The delicious and nutritious marine plants take a backseat when the water temperatures get too low and the manatees flee to the freshwater springs.
Three Sisters Springs is part of the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge. The federal government has special regulations in place that protect the threatened marine mammal from boats and under-educated swimmers. Volunteers and interns patrol the spring on the boardwalk to dole out warnings to anyone harassing the manatees. They also monitor the protected spaces that are bordered with ropes and floats, areas that are only accessible to Florida’s native sea cows.
Because manatees can get cold-stunned or even die because of the low temperatures, the Refuge closes the springs to humans depending on environmental conditions. Nearby Gulf of Mexico water temperatures that dip below 62 degrees will keep the Springs closed until water temperatures are above 62 degrees for 24 hours. This helps create more elbow room for the 11-foot-long sea cows and keeps the manatee masses safe from boat strikes.