Eight Days in Manatee Country
You can jump to each part of this report using the Table of Contents below, or just click the "NEXT" button at the bottom of each page.
First Look - Homosassa Springs Wildlife Refuge
After arriving in Homosassa Springs with George Stover's Adventure Productions, our first stop was at Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park where we met Dr. Lowe, the parks veterinarian charged with caring for the 9 manatees there. We enjoyed a behind the scenes tour of the park, including the manatee observation exhibit.
Dr. Lowe explained that Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park is a refuge where injured or orphaned manatees which have received treatment at a critical care facility are housed, fed, and cared for - until released or for the rest of their lives, depending on whether or not the animal is expected to be able to re-acclimate itself to life in the wild.
The park centers around a large freshwater spring which is the headwater for the Homosassa River - flowing about 2 million gallons of 72-degree spring water every hour. The springs constant temperature attracts manatees during the colder winter months to the springs area. Wild manatees are separated from the parks manatees by a special fence which spans the width of the flow several hundred feet from the main spring.
My first real-life manatee sighting was in the parks "Manatee Salad Bar" where the manatees are fed. The bar is really a floating cage designed to keep the food from floating downstream to the wild manatees which gather at the spring in the winter. The parks manatees are free to enter and exit the feeding area at will, through two large ports at either end. It was easy to see these gentle giants in the water from the lower observation deck of the exhibit - a floating observatory with windows under water.
My first impression was how large and gentle these animals appeared to be. I was amazed at how agile the front limbs were, as the stuffed food into their mouths and held it close to them as they fed. Admittedly, they're pug-faces reminded me of my Sharpeii, Roscoe, who shares a similar facial profile.
I also was impressed with the amount of food they devoured - it seemed they all had a very healthy appetite. The lettuce and greens were prepared by park operators by cleaning and chopping, then hauled to the salad bar, where it is thrown in to the waiting manatees.
After watching the manatees, we walked around the park and had the grand tour of all of the native-to-Florida animal exhibits, including several of the creatures shown below:
I was eager to be able to get into the water with the wild manatees, and was looking forward to our first dive in the Homosassa River on Sunday afternoon.
Call the Wildlife Alert Hotline 1-888-404-FWCC (3922) or *FWC/#FWC, or use VHF Channel 16 on your marine radio if you see an injured, dead, tagged, or orphaned manatee, or if you see a manatee being harassed.
Manatee News Blog