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Trichechus manatus latirostris
When diving or snorkeling, this creature, although extremely gentle, can cause a real startle when you are not expecting to see one. On the coldest days in Florida, these manatee migrate up rivers and inlets looking for warmer waters. Some, like the ones photographed here, make their way into the clear springs and congregate in the warmer waters (a constant 72 degrees farenheit). Food is scarce for them in the springs and they spend much of their time resting while awaiting warmer temperatures. Unfortunately, this also attracts tourists and boatloads of divers are brought to these springs, leaving the manatee with little rest. These tours are not usually life threatening for these creatures though and the waters will not take very long at all to warm back up. The one benefit I can see with these tours is that by bringing humans closer to these gentle giants in a supervised atmosphere, the manatee earn a spot in most people's hearts, which helps to protect this endangered species.
coastal rivers and springs
Early morning on a 36 degree, windy day, I launched my canoe and paddled 3 miles to a spring where I thought I might spot some of these guys. With no wet suit or other protection from the cold, I dove in to photograph the manatee only to find that a little after sunrise, I was joined in the water by at least 80 other people. There were at least 30 manatee in the area as well.