Experience the Manatees of Blue Springs State Park. Located in the Orlando area, Blue Springs is the winter home for the Florida manatee during the months of November through March. Blue Springs is just a short drive from Orlando. This time of year the manatees resort to the warmer waters of the springs to survive the cold waters of winter. Blue Springs State Park is one of the largest winter sanctuaries for this magnificent animal in Florida. Here you can view the manatee in its natural habitat, with bird’s eye views from the boardwalk that runs along the spring run, or from the St Johns River, via kayak tour, as they come and go into beautiful St. Johns River.
Blue springs state park not only has abundant Florida wildlife, the park also has some very unique and intriguing history. Gold rush prospector, turned orange grower, Louis Thursby purchased Blue Springs 1856 and built a large plantation style home on an Indian midden, which still stands today. Before the railroad rolled in, Thursby’s Blue Springs Landing was a hot spot for steam boat activity, shipping goods, citrus and tourists to Jacksonville and beyond.
A killing freeze occurred in the 1890’s wiping out the orange groves and driving the industry south. Being the entrepreneur he was, Thursby switched to the tourist trade, taking advantage of the fishing and hunting opportunities in Blue Springs and the ST Johns River.
The Forgotten Mermaids, an episode of the popular tv program – The Underwater World of Jacques Cousteau, was filmed at Blue Springs in 1971. The documentary brought attention to the Florida manatee and the importance of Blue Springs as a winter refuge to stay warm. The spring stays at a water temperature of 73 degrees year round. The documentary also influenced the state of Florida to purchased the land one year later in 1972, and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection began the manatee protection program. Jacques Cousteau was a pioneer, bringing awareness to all the sea creatures of the world and was the inventor of the Aqua Lung breathing apparatus, which eventually evolved into the diving regulators we have today.
Jacques Cousteau was responsible for saving our beautiful Florida manatees. One man….can make a difference.
Conservation measures can produce astounding results. In 1970, two years before Blue Springs State Park was established, researchers tracked 14 manatees in the spring run. By 2005, after years of State Park improvements and Florida manatee protection efforts, wintering manatee numbers exceeded 200. In 2018 the number exceeded 500.
Our informative guided kayak tours not only brings awareness of the Florida manatee, but also involves other wildlife, such as bald eagles, hawks, alligators and several birds of the marsh, as well as some pretty cool history!
Click here for our – Manatee Tour
Florida Manatee Fun Facts
Here are a few facts about our magnificent Florida manatee. The West Indian Manatee is divided into two subspecies, the Florida manatee and the Antillean or Caribbean manatee. The average Florida manatee is approximately (8.9–11.5 ft) long and weighs (440–1,320 lb), with females normally larger than males. The Florida manatee can be found all over in the warm waters of St Augustine in the summer. The West Indian manatee is surprisingly agile in water, and individuals have been seen doing rolls, somersaults, and even swimming upside-down. Manatees are not territorial and do not have complex predator avoidance behavior. In other words , they have no fear of anything. The common predators of marine mammals, such as orcas and large sharks, are rarely, if ever found in habitats inhabited by this species.
Manatees have sensitive tactile hairs that cover their bodies and face called vibrissae. Vibrissae are blood filled sinuses bound by a dense connective tissue capsule with sensitive nerve endings that provides feedback to the manatee. Usually vibrissae are found on the facial regions of land critters and are called whiskers. Manatees however, have vibrissae all over their body. The vibrissae on their facial region are roughly 30 times denser than the vibrissae on the rest of their body. Their mouth consists of very mobile prehensile lips which are used for grasping food. The vibrissae on these lips are turned outward during grasping and are used in locating vegetation. The vibrissa on their bodies, not only help them find food, but also help in their navigation of turbid waters.
Manatees are herbivores, meaning they feed on mostly plants, although they do dine on some small fish and invertebrates ( little spineless creatures). There are about 60 plant species which the Florida manatee chow on, which include sea grasses as their major food source. Because manatees feed on abrasive plants, their molars are often worn down and are continually replaced throughout their life, hence called “marching molars”.
The Florida manatee has a high casualty rate due to thermal shock from cold water temperatures. Their digestive tract shuts down if they linger too long in water temperatures below 68 degrees. Many manatee deaths are caused by collision with motorized boats. The state and various private organizations have done a good job bringing public awareness to this fact.
Although the Florida manatee is mostly a solitary creature, they do form mating herds while the female is in estrus. Most females first breed successfully between ages of seven and nine; they are, however, capable of reproduction as early as age four. Most males reach sexually maturity by the time they are three or four. The gestation period is 12 to 14 months. As the norm, one calf is born, although on rare occasions two have been recorded. We saw a mother with two calves last year on one of our tours to Blue Springs. (see pic above) It was a rare and special treat! The young are born with molars, within the first three weeks of birth, allowing them to consume seagrass, although they will still nurse from their mother. On average, manatees that survive to adulthood will have between five and seven offspring between the ages of 20 and 26. When a calf is born, it usually weighs between 60 and 70 pounds and is between 4.0 and 4.5 feet long. The family unit consists of mother and calf, which remain together for up to two years. Males aggregate in mating herds around a female when she is ready to mate, however they are dead beat dad’s and contribute no parental care to the calf.