Look Back at 2019–Manatees, Dry Tortugas and more

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I’m taking a fond look back at what a memorable year we had in 2019. Yes, manatees were a big part of it, as always! But we also trekked over 1,000 miles across Florida, making it all the way down to Dry Tortugas National Park at the western tip of the Florida Keys. Here are some highlights:

Mustache, the baby boy manatee with the white mustache—that is a good place to start. Spring Equinox, March 20th, was the first time I saw the adorable little youngster with his mom. I’ve seen baby manatees before, most notably the little one “Angel” confirmed by Dr. Bob Bonde to have probably been born in the springs the night before that early morning Leap Day in 2008. It is interesting comparing the little calves and seeing the differences between a newborn and a manatee calf that is about two weeks old. Both are absolutely adorable!

Little Mr. Mustache the baby manatee with mom. Spring Equinox, March 20, 2019baby manatee with mother,©CGrant-oceangrant.com

Now look at some of the differences between the documented newborn, Angel, and the slightly older calf, the one I called Mustache, from March 20, 2019. Of course it is easier with high-resolution versions, but differences are still apparent in these photographs.

Angel the newborn manatee from February 29, 2008. Note the differences between the calf I called Mustache from Spring 2019 and Angel from February 2008. manatee newborn,©CGrant-oceangerant.com

Angel, the newborn manatee from February 2008. Note the tears in the umbilical,  lack of much body hair at all, more fetal folds, etc. Please note, his mother and her female “escort” pushed the baby towards me because there were two other curious manatees after the calf, acting a bit too rough. I seems the mother saw me as safe as I was quiet and still.manatee newborn,©CGrant-oceangrant.com

Now, Little Mustache from March 20, 2019, looked and acted a bit older than Angel. Compare the pictures above, Mustache from 2019 vs. Angel from 2008. The clues are the look of body hairs (or empty hair follicles), fetal folds, any umbilical bits remaining, behavior, etc. I sent some photographs of Mustache from the Spring Equinox to the United States Geological Survey’s (USGS) Manatee Individual Photo-Identification System in Gainesville. I was glad to see Cathy Beck was still there (emeritus). She agreed with me that two weeks old for the age of Little Mustache was “a good guess”. Would you like to know the ID of his mother and a bothersome male manatee that followed and pestered the pair, repeatedly?

For ID of manatees: clear photographs need to be taken of their backs for prominent scars or other unique features. I have closer photographs I sent in for ID, but this one shows the threesome pretty clearly and the behavior of the male chasing the new mother and Little Mustache.Manatees-mom young calf male follow,©CGrant-oceangrant.com

This photograph shows the behavior of the male manatee impeding the mother and calf coming into the springs. March 20, 2019.Mother manatee young calf with male,©CGrant-oceangrant.com

Here’s the male manatee again following the mother and young calf Mustache. He chased them all over the different springs at Three Sisters. The mother handled it well, never got flustered and always moved her calf away from the persistent male. It is something that occurs as manatees are extremely curious marine mammals. The male could also be taking advantage of the slow mother manatee.Baby manatee with mom followed by male,©CGrant-oceangrant.com

Cathy Beck from USGS Manatee Individual Photo-Identification System said:

“The female is CR791.  She was first documented (as an adult) in Feb 1998 and was seen with a calf in Jan 2006.

This would be her second (known) calf.  All of her sightings have been from Crystal River.  I agree with you that the calf is very young, but not a newborn.  I think 2 weeks is a good guess!

The male has not been catalogued in MIPS yet, but do we have previous sightings of him.  He was first documented at Crystal River in October 2010 when that scar on his left tail was still healing.

He was thought to be a subadult or small adult at that time.  All of his sighting history has been at Crystal River as well.  He’ll be getting a CR ID soon!”

Cathy also said my photographs were “so clear and well-annotated”! Thanks Cathy, I appreciate it. I hope my pics are clear…, I’ve been working on it for long enough… 😉

As much as I’d like to dwell on baby manatees, there was more that happened in 2019. I was asked to write an article about how to observe manatees at Crystal River by Alert Diver magazine. Even with all the frequent spring closures and regulations in effect, I wanted to convey that respectful folks can still have a memorable eco-manatee experience in Crystal River. Realize though, the article was edited so some references I wanted to add like one about Discover Crystal River—Citrus County’s Official Tourist and Visitor’s Center—for information and recommendations, etc., were left out due to space. But it is a good article with recent manatee pictures to give people an idea of how to go about respectfully observing manatees from above and below water in their winter home at the freshwater springs.

Enchanting Manatees of Crystal River–Alert Diver article. It contains a lot of information about observing manatees currently. Click the photo to link to online article. Since some copy was edited, let me add here that the Official Visitor’s Center of Citrus County––Discover Crystal River––is a good source of information on manatees, viewing areas, reputable licensed tour operators, accommodations, places to eat, etc. Alert Diver,by Carol Grant,manatees

Manatees and then Chinese food on Christmas Day, last Wednesday, were a delightful Christmas gift! The warming water caused manatees to act very relaxed, a good Christmas gift for them too. 

Santa Manatee! This manatee from Christmas, a few days ago, seemed festive and happy about the warming holiday. Christmas Day 2019.manatee on Christmas,©CGrant-oceangrant.com

Switching to the end of manatee season last spring, I’ve wanted to take my husband, Theo, to the Florida Keys for years. I dove on many projects up and down the Keys with NOAA, the Park Service, REEF (Reef Environmental Education Foundation) etc., but Theo was busy with other things at the time. I knew he would love Fort Jefferson on Garden Key, Dry Tortugas National Park, and snorkeling in the beautiful blue waters surrounding. It was this past May and we didn’t wait any longer, taking off in the car! First I spent some days on the east coast diving at one of my favorite dive sites, Blue Heron Bridge, Riviera Beach, Florida. Then we took off to Key West! The Yankee Freedom was the transportation we took to the Dry Tortugas. Theo toured the fort but I had toured it twice before so I got into the water right away. We both snorkeled around the structure and I almost circumnavigated Fort Jefferson in the water, but the strong full moon tide change stopped me about two-thirds of the way around. Here’s a few photographs I took while snorkeling. I was particularly intrigued by all the brown noddies perched on the old 1898 coal dock pilings, a bird I don’t see in other parts of Florida. While birds were not our focus, we still saw many species including: many magnificent frigate birds, brown noddies, black noddies, masked boobies, brown boobies, sooty terns, pelicans, etc. etc.

Brown noddy terns perching on the old 1898 coal dock pilings which are an awesome place to snorkel!Ft Jefferson Dry Tortugas,©CGrant-oceangrant.com

Tell me, where else can you swim in clear blue water, spy huge lobsters, goliath grouper and other fascinating fish, see uncommon birds, have a picnic on the beach right next to a historic civil war era fort? This is the beach next to the South coal docks, Ft. Jefferson, Dry Tortugas National Park.Fort Jefferson beach,©CGrant-oceangrant.com

The South coal docks are packed with healthy corals. I was pleased to see the coral wasting disease that hit other Keys’ reefs hard had not  affected this area much. May 18, 2019.Ft Jefferson coal dock corals,©CGrant-oceangrant.com

Experiencing seaplanes taking off and landing while you are in the water is completely exhilarating! This is a unique, one-of-a-kind experience I highly recommend. As long as one stays in the designated swim area among the old South coal dock pilings it is completely safe.Ft Jefferson coal docks seaplane,©CGrant-oceangrant.com

Here’s a map from the Park Service showing the snorkeling areas. The South coal docks are where I snorkeled near where the seaplanes landed and took off.Map of Ft Jefferson-National Park Service

Here’s plenty of information about the Fort Jefferson historic site from the National Park Service. Click the photo for the entire 20 page guide.Fort Jefferson Tour-National Park Service

After our Dry Tortugas adventure, Theo toured all around Key West while I finally got to dive the Vandenberg! We had a blast! On the beautiful drive up from Key West to Key Largo we stopped at the History of Diving Museum in Islamorada. Wow! That was also a big highlight of the trip!

If you are in the Florida Keys, a stop at the History of Diving Museum in Islamorada is way way cool!History of Diving Museum Islamorada Florida

While staying in Key Largo, we enjoyed kayaking around the bays and mangroves. Like I usually do, I saw some manatees in Key Largo too.  Diving was on the agenda and again, I got to dive a site I hadn’t been to before in the Keys! The Christ of the Abyss statue is a rather touristy site almost every diver does in Key Largo, but since in the past I was diving down there on research projects most of the time we never did that site. I enjoyed it immensely and the sea fans waving in the surge on the surrounding reef were healthy, lovely and mesmerizing!

Christ of the Abyss, Key Largo, Florida. In all my hundreds of dives in the Keys I never dove this. Plus there were no other people around! I found it surprisingly profound and I loved all the marine growth on the statue. May 2019.Christ of the Abyss,©CGrant-oceangrant.com

Look at all the marine organisms thriving on the Christ of the Abyss. The Quiescence Dive boat captain said someone used to clean it off all the time, but I much prefer it colonized, like this.Christ of the Abyss from above,©CGrant-oceangrant.com

Well, one kind-of-has-to… I don’t take a lot of selfies underwater, but I felt like I was attending church or something…Christ of the Abyss and Carol,©CGrant-oceangrant.com

The surrounding reef had absolutely gorgeous and healthy sea fans waving in the surge.Sea Fans Grecian Reef,©CGrant-oceangrant.com

It is hard to believe there were even more eventful experiences than these. Too much to write about at the moment, but here’s a copy of our yearly Holiday Greetings:

Grant holiday newsletter 2019

With the 20s now on our doorstep I wish everyone reading this lots of adventure, companionship, happiness and prosperity in the New Year!

Best, Carol