Normally, manatees are long gone from Blue Spring this time of year, as they’ve made their way back to the waters closer to the Gulf of Mexico or Atlantic Ocean. I, however, got lucky on my visit to the state park (on the western edge of Orange City, Florida) in late-April, as two calves were being reintroduced into the wild. The story was they had been injured and taken to Sea World. The staff there had nursed them back to health and placed them at Blue Spring. Having been acclimated to people, they chose to hang out at the dock with their radio transmitters bobbing on the surface just above them as they lounged on the spring’s bottom.
Perennially voted as one of the best places to see manatees, Blue Spring hosts scores of these gentle creatures as they congregate here in the winter months, taking refuge in the waters here, which are a constant 72 degrees Farhenheit. To celebrate the migration, Blue Spring State Park hosts the annual Manatee Festival in late January. This past year the park welcomed 202 of the so-called sea cows – a record number of manatees since the festival began 23 years ago.
During my recent visit, the area in which the manatees had chosen to make their temporary home was roped off to keep humans at a distance. Still, one of the manatees proved its fearlessness when two biologists from nearby Stetson University swam through their watery lair. The manatee, which had appeared to sleep for the previous hour, suddenly swam over to see who these creatures were, stopping when they stopped, perhaps in hopes of receiving attention or, maybe food.
Learn more about the Manatee Festival at their Web site. Plans for the 2009 festival are not yet online.