March Manatees Part 1

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Manatees in March – what is special about this time of the year in the freshwater Florida springs? First, we are very lucky to see manatees in March as if it warms a lot in late February a warm March will beckon manatees to leave the springs and spread out early.

If we have a cooler March, the manatees will tend to stick around near the warm springs and this becomes my favorite time of year to see them. The lovely blue spring water seems more abundant in March due to strong sunlight and milder cold fronts. There are more delightful mothers with their young ones out and about too. I find it peaceful in places like Three Sisters Springs during much of March. Yes, Spring Break is upon us, but I don’t go on busy weekends and find that when I do go the manatees have the springs mostly to themselves. Also the Manatee Watch volunteers do a good job supervising in and around the springs. It becomes truly quiet and serene as you will see in this series of photographs.

 Manatee Mother and Her Young Female Calf – March 4, 2014Florida manatee, Trichechus manatus latirostris, a subspecies of the West Indian manatee, endangered. Horizontal orientation. A young female manatee calf with a thick algae layer poses next to its mother in the warm blue freshwater of Three Sisters Springs, Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, Kings Bay, Crystal River, Citrus County, Florida USA. (Carol Grant)

This young female calf above sports a blanket of thick algae and a bit of a little “grin”. The algae is from our warmer than normal February and this mother and calf looks to have spent a fair amount of time where the algae grows away from the springs. As far as her cute little “grin”, I’ve noticed manatee calves have varying expressions running the gamut between “cute” and “pouty”. Younger manatees like this calf sometimes seem to have a cheerful expression and maybe they are still thrilled to be welcomed into this exciting world and be nurtured by mom?

 Curious Manatee Calf Surfaces in Bright Sunlight – March 18, 2014Florida manatee, Trichechus manatus latirostris, a subspecies of the West Indian manatee, endangered. Horizontal orientation. A young, curious manatee surfaces with reflection. It is late in the manatee season and March sunlight is very strong. The water is warm  and blue at Three Sisters Springs, Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, Kings Bay, Crystal River, Citrus County, Florida USA. (Carol Grant)

Blue spring water and strong sunlight are additional gifts of March. This manatee calf surfacing was taken smack dab in the middle of the day when the strong March sunlight pierces the clear freshwater. I love how the outline of the cypress tree foliage is represented in sand shadows. This little manatee found a special corner of the springs!

 Male Manatee Calf Gets Frisky with His Mom – March 18, 2014Florida manatee, Trichechus manatus latirostris, a subspecies of the West Indian manatee, endangered. Horizontal orientation. An older male manatee calf plays intimately with its mother. This behavior is thought to be a sign to the mother that her calf needs to be weaned. Floating in the late-season blue freshwater of Three Sisters Springs, Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, Kings Bay, Crystal River, Citrus County, Florida USA. (Carol Grant)

March is also known for frisky socializing manatees. Cavorting groups swim in and out of the springs. Although, sometimes a frisky manatee one observes is an older male calf growing up! Dr. Bob Bonde told me they believe that when the male calf starts to get friendly with his mom she knows it is nearing time to wean him and soon he will leave the nest. The photograph above shows a male calf tickling his very patient mother.

 Mother Caresses Male Calf – March 18, 2014Florida manatee, Trichechus manatus latirostris, a subspecies of the West Indian manatee, endangered. Horizontal orientation. A mother manatee caresses her older male calf with her snout. This calf is nearing the time of weaning. Is this one of the tender touchs from mom before he leaves the nest? Strong March sunlight lights this intimate scene. The pair is floating in the warm blue freshwater of Three Sisters Springs, Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, Kings Bay, Crystal River, Citrus County, Florida USA. (Carol Grant)

Here is the same mother and older male calf as she seems to be reassuring and caressing him. Does she know he will soon go out on his own? Does this closeness signify she cares for him and will miss him? I admit, after observing this intimate behavior I felt this mother and calf pair have deep bonding and feelings for each other and I was deeply touched.

OK – stay tuned for “March Manatees Part 2” before the end of the month. I have more stories to tell and possibly another manatee adventure before the season ends? Last week manatees left the clear water springs, but a weather system may bring some in for a last hurrah! Stay tuned…

Best, Carol