Florida Birding

So Many Manatees! – Three Sisters Springs – Crystal River, Florida

I don’t know if I can find the words to describe what an amazing sight it is to see so many of Florida’s gentle giants gathered together in one place. To see one of these large and loveable marine mammals in the wild is spectacular enough, but to see 80 or so slowly gliding around in one area is nothing short of breathtaking.

The manatee is a large marine mammal with flippers, a flat tail, and an egg-shaped head. It has been nicknamed the Florida Sea Cow because it moves slowly through the water, grazing on the aquatic grasses that grow below. However, even though it is called a Sea Cow, it is actually more related to an elephant.

On average, an adult Florida manatee reaches 11 feet in length and weighs up to almost 1,000 pounds, but some can grow even larger. Despite their size, manatees are very gentle, and one need not be afraid if one might happen to swim by you while you are swimming in Florida waters. In fact, these docile creatures show no signs of aggression, and because of the shape of their snout, they cannot use their teeth to bite.

Manatees are curious by nature and tend to flock toward human activity but beware, even though a manatee may nuzzle you, it is illegal to disturb them. If a manatee ever approaches you in the water, be still and enjoy the experience but do not reach out and touch, hug, grab, or anything else. Manatees are protected by Federal law. Touching, harassing, or disturbing a manatee can cost you a hefty $500 fine or even land you in jail.

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Manatees are mammals and must come to the surface to breathe, and many times they rest just below the water’s surface, making them easy to view.

As the tide started going out, the manatees slowly moved towards the deeper canal. In this canal, swimmers, kayakers, and paddleboarders who had booked tours with outside vendors, were waiting for their chance to swim and paddle near the massive gathering of manatees.

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John and I seemed to be mesmerized by these peaceful creatures and stood watching them for a long while. We knew we also wanted to walk the nature trail while visiting Three Sisters Springs, but it was hard to drag ourselves away from the manatees.

We are glad that we were finally able to take our eyes off the manatees and walk the Beyond the Boardwalk Trail. The trail took us along a canal, around a freshwater named Crystal Lake, and through a wetlands area. Along the trail and throughout the 57-acre parcel of land that makes up Three Sisters Springs, there was an assortment of birds to observe, photograph, and identify. John and I have recently taken up bird watching as a new hobby, and as beginners, the trip here gave us many specimens to identify.

Parking and ticket purchase is located at 123 NW U.S. Highway 19 behind the City Hall Building. A short 5-minute trolley ride will take visitors to Three Sisters Springs. The only parking at Three Sisters Springs is reserved for disabled visitors. The Trolley runs 7 days a week from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm (last tickets sold at 3:30 pm)

In-season admission (November 15 through March 31st – when manatees migrate to the springs) is $20 adult and $7.50 for children 6-15. There is a $2.50 discount for seniors and a $5.00 military discount.

The best time to see manatees in abundance at Three Sisters Springs is on cold winter days when the springs’ water temperature is warmer than the Gulf. Best viewing is during high tide when the depth of the springs is at is deepest, and viewing is also easier in full sun.

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