In search of manatees
ManateesOne of the world's largest, deepest, freshwater springs is also home to one of the most bizarre, unique creatures I've ever (almost) seen.
Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park is located south of Tallahassee and has a consistent water temperature of 70F. Perfect for Florida's manatees, who, like me, enjoy anything above 68F!
The manatee, or sea cow, is a relative of the elephant and they spend their lives eating, resting and traveling. Totally relatable, if you ask me.
Unlike anything I've seen before, I was instantly drawn to Wakulla Springs to try and find one, which was a remote possibility because it was the time of year when they migrated back to southern parts of Florida, Texas, Massachusetts, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina.
Aside from these gentle giants, the park boasts a historic 1930s Spanish-style lodge, ancient cypress swamps, a multitude of other wildlife and even mastodon bones.
Even Hollywood took notice with filming of Tarzan, Creature from the Black Lagoon and Airport '77 taking place in and under the spring waters.
The tranquil setting and limited access to the water (private boats, kayaks and canoes are prohibited) force you to relax and smell the roses, so to speak. So we hopped aboard the ranger-driven river boat and headed out for our two-mile tour.
Time almost stands still once you hit the calm, wildlife crowded waters. With the ranger and other passengers pointing out troops of turtles, bevies of birds and armies of alligators, you forget about the fact that you really came for the manatees.
Fallen trees make perfect gathering spots for families of turtles, perched above the water, often on top of one another, webbed feet splayed open to catch the breeze.
On a microscopic island all to himself, an alligator spread out like a king, soaking up the afternoon sun, legs dangling in the water. All that was missing was a beer, sunglasses and reggae music.
Around the corner we discovered what might have been the family he was trying to get a break from. A female alligator with, at quick count, a dozen babies. Much like the turtles we had just passed, the babies were huddled together, climbing on top of one another, peering at us through tall grasses hoping they might become invisible, just in case we were dangerous.
Behind them, sitting on a limb of a cypress tree, were black vultures. I have no idea if vultures eat young alligators, but I didn't want to linger and find out.
So many birds filled the tops of trees that it reminded me of a scene from Hitchcock's 'The Birds'.
Too soon, we rounded the final corner, making our way back to the dock.
It was then my husband yelled out one word - manatees!
Thankfully, between my side of the boat and the grassy shoreline were two giant shapes, totally identifiable by their large flat tails. Almost breaking the surface, they slowly passed by, making their way south.
The entire experience was only about 20 seconds long, but it will stay with me for the rest of my life.
Once on the endangered species list, the manatee has been upgraded to threatened, but how long that lasts is anyones guess.
2018 wasn't a good year. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, nearly 800 manatees died from colder waters, red tide and boating accidents.
Who knows what the fate of these gentle giants will be, but, selfishly, I can relish in the fact that I got to see a couple before no one else gets that chance.
Here's hoping that never happens.
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