Recently I got to know more about another amazing animal that calls Florida home, the West Indian Manatee. My fiancé and I took a trip down to Fort Myers a few weekends ago and made a visit to Manatee Park to spot some manatees in their natural habitat.
Manatee Park is a public park located in Fort Myers and operated by Lee County. It is a non-captive warm water refuge for the Florida Manatee. The manatees are completely fee to come and go as they wish and are usually only present in the winter months of December-February.
Manatees are warm-blooded mammals and are very temperature sensitive animals. They will die of hypothermia in water temperature below 68 fahrenheit.
In the warm summer months manatees head out to the Gulf waters that have warmed and live and eat there. In the colder winter months when Gulf water temperatures dip, the manatee population migrates from the Gulf to the warmer water areas, like Manatee Park, to avoid hypothermia and death.
Manatee Park is unique in that the land in which the park sits on is actually owned by Florida Power & Light, an electric utility facility. This facility is what warms the water surrounding it and thus makes it ideal for the manatees in the winter months. Without this facility here, it’s presumable that the water would not stay warm enough for the manatees in the winter time.
Manatees look like rolly-polly soft animals, but in reality they are 98% muscle and were once hunted to near extinction. In the early 1970’s manatees became protected under the Endangered Species Act. Although their population has increased since this, manatees are still now heavily protected by both state and federal laws.
Not only is it illegal to hunt or poach manatees but even touching them, trapping, poking, prodding, or feeding them can be punishable by extreme fines.
Manatees really don’t “do” much, per say. They are herbivores so they only eat plants, making their “hunt” for food very mundane. While they can swim at a fast speed if necessary they much prefer to spend their time floating at the top of the water and coming up for air occasionally.
Adult manatees actually have no known natural predators. Sharks and alligators have been known to leave manatees alone and not bother with trying to make them dinner or lunch. Most likely because they are so large in size. While we know they are gentle, their size can still be intimidating to other animals.
The species that threatens the life of manatees the most is the human species. Because manatees spend so much of their time lazily floating at the top of the water’s surface many times they are hit or cut by the boat propellors of boaters who are not obeying “no wake” zones on the water.
Quite a few of the manatees at Manatee Park had very visible scars or cuts on their backs from where they were hit by boat propellors. While this was extremely sad for me to see, I had to remind myself these are the manatees that have survived, many are hit by boats and do not survive.
Manatee Park is a viewing only park; while you can kayak and hope to see some manatees during your trip, you can not legally swim, touch or feed manatees here. Crystal River, Florida is one of the only places in the state where you can legally swim with manatees, and even there you have to be accompanied by a tour guide.
Other amenities included at Manatee Park:
- kayak and canoe rentals
- fishing areas
- butterfly garden
- a gift shop
- a live oak amphitheater
- a pavilion
- picnic areas
If you like liked this post and like manatees, stay tuned because I had an amazing experience last week that I am so excited to share with you all. Hint: if you follow me on Instagram you can get a sneak peak at what it is.