Friday, February 20, 2015


Yesterday, we drove about one hour north of Orlando to see the manatees that spend time at Blue Spring State Park for the winter. Because the water is a constant 73˚ they spend a good deal of time here during the winter when the temperature of the Johns River drops. Manatees get cold shock and die if the water temperature drops below 60˚ for any length of time. Blue Spring is about 1/3 mile from the river. The lagoon and the 104 million gallons of water it discharges daily provides enough for as many as 300 manatees at any one time.
Lots of young manatee. They stay with momma for up to two years. 
The park built a boardwalk the entire length of the lagoon providing great viewing of the manatees as they slowly make their way to the springs and back. The huge mammals can swim up to 13 miles per hour, but in the lagoon they seldom move more than one or two mph propelled by their huge tail which is strong enough to break the leg of a swimmer who gets too close. The front flippers are only used for direction.

The sad story for these amazing animals is that while they have no natural predators – the only such animal in the world – they are endangered because of humans. Most are killed when they are hit by the propeller of a speeding boat in the open water. Every manatee we saw had scars. The scars are easy to identify as they heal with a white scab that never goes away. The scars are therefore unique and used to identify individuals.
Injured manatees are given a tracking device when they are returned to the water.

They are also harmed by fertilizer runoff and plastic. Plastic is a problem because they are unable to digest it and it will block their intestines. There is a bill in the Florida legislature right now that would allow local jurisdictions to ban plastic bags. Unfortunately, the retailers and bag makers are fighting this quite reasonable idea. I was somewhat ambivalent about the paper/plastic choice until a few  years ago when we spent a week in Corpus Christie, TX. I was appalled at the number of plastic bags we saw littering the landscape, something one would never say about paper bags. Paper bags do of course end up as litter also, but they don’t blow around in the wind and cause the death of many birds and animals. When I visited Texas two years ago, I saw that several of the coastal towns now do prohibit their use which has made a huge visual change to the region. I hope Florida will follow suit. I also have hopes that Vancouver and Clark County will do the same although I have doubts that our current set of county councilors will do so since they are more focused on levying a litter tax on the local newspaper. They claim this has nothing to do with the fact that the Columbian keeps pointing out their myriad foibles or as they editor says, “They keep doing stupid stuff.”
Notice the tiny mouth
Meanwhile, we had a great time walking the boardwalk watching the manatees. We probably saw 200 of them as we wandered the park for about two hours. During the summer months they allow swimming and scuba diving in the lagoon, but not during the winter when the manatees are there.

We also spent some time examining the historic Louis Thursby house built in the 1870s atop an Indian midden. A midden is really a garbage pile of mostly shells left behind over the centuries by the local Indians. For the first several decades the Thursbys was a major stop for steamboats plying the Johns River which is navigable from Jacksonville to Orlando. The advent of the railroad eventually put an end to steamboat traffic and the state purchased the land as a park to protect the area for the manatees.
The Thursby House
 The 2400 acres is also home to many other endangered species including the Florida scrub jay, gopher tortoise, and Okeechobee gourds. One may also see black bears in the area. We did not see many birds, but were lucky enough to get some good views of the Florida scrub jay which is Florida’s only endemic bird. We had tried to find them on earlier trips to the state, but came up empty. Yesterday we were more fortunate.
The elusive Florida Scrub Jay
Before heading home, we drove through the small town of Cassadaga which claims to be the home of more psychics and mediums than any other town in the US. It did seem like every third house had a sign advertising the availability of the one or the other. We saw more black cats than we have ever seen in one place. You can’t drive through the town without having at least one cross your path. I hope that doesn’t lead to bad luck. The one hotel in town includes a store selling mystical ware and its own resident medium. They even have the Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp which takes up several acres with its buildings. We did not stop, but did enjoy seeing the sites.