My last post about all the amazing manatees that have made many of my birthdays memorable, drummed up a lot of interest. I thought I’d delineate which manatees and friends showed up on which of my Feb. 11th birthdays these past few years 2011-2018 and tell a bit of the story behind the shots. Of course I’ve seen manatees on birthdays before these years, but this is the best number for an impactful photo collage.
I’ll start with the latest, Feb 11, 2018
This was probably the most difficult of all the yearly birthday encounters. Florida weather had been hit with a number of cold fronts that dipped way south. While it wasn’t the coldest year in recent memory, it was cold for Florida with a number of freezes. Then. all of a sudden, February started and it went from cold to near record heat in just a few days! When it is warm manatees spread out to feed, spend time with little ones alone and socialize with other manatees. They don’t usually spend much time in the clear springs because these waters are not food-rich and other areas are usually warmer. So this last birthday went from getting impactful pictures to just seeing manatees. We were thrilled to see a mother guiding its calf into the springs. Part of responsibly photographing manatees is determining which ones are shy and when it is better to keep a distance. That is the way with this cow and calf pair. I could sense the mother wanted to quietly guide her little one to a resting spot, all their own. That is what is happening here. An attentive mother is guiding her manatee towards the warmer corners of Pretty Sister Spring. Again, I was glad this day to get any photos of manatees!😊
Yes, it is more difficult now, as opposed to several years ago, to achieve compelling underwater photographs showcasing the manatee’s life. With all the extra closures of the clearer water areas that have enough light to execute a decent photograph, it is difficult, but not impossible. If this season had been a little more moderate temperature wise, there would have been a few more opportunities to capture the manatee’s compelling story. The way the 2017 to 2018 season unfolded I was happy to get the shots and video I did!
On February 11, 2017, I embarked on a photographic assignment for the Citrus County Visitors and Convention Bureau. It was an Open House on the land boardwalk of the refuge so I started when the light was nice and spent several hours getting various split-level shots of the boardwalk activities, arriving manatees and then two wonderful ladies, Carli and Veronica, joined me to get some impactful, polite, underwater passive observation photographs for the Visitors Center. Several of the ones I got on this day are in their new Visitors Guide. You can request a printed copy or view an online copy here:
A curious female manatee is enamored with Carli on the cover of the new 2018 Visitors Guide. Here’s the secret: passively float like a manatee, observe and admire from afar and many times it will tweak a manatee’s curiosity. Big Sister Spring, Crystal River, FL. Feb. 11, 2017.
It is a challenge to photograph people underwater with natural light only. This is due to the fact that water, even clear water, immediately eats up nearly 80% of the light off the bat, at least. With manatees the light isn’t as critical, but for people’s skin to not turn out totally bluish there must be some strong light directed for some natural sharp skin tone. Flashes back in Three Sisters were disallowed a few years ago. I personally never found they bothered any manatees as the sun rays that hit their eyes in the warm shallow water manatees bask in is at least 50X more intense than a diffused underwater strobe. But I acknowledge the rule and work with it. I picked this day because I knew there would be some strong sunlight and it worked as I was continually positioning myself with the sun shining correctly. Yes, the pictures would have been even better with judicious use of additional underwater strobe light, but I was happy with what we achieved. Look at the lovely natural sunlight piercing Carli’s mask and highlighting the manatee’s cute snout!
On February 11, 2016 I met one of the most memorable manatee characters! Thanks for showing up on my Birthday 2016 Wrinkles! He was a chum, a good boy that swam into the springs with his mother. Then after she settled down to rest Wrinkles ventured out to explore! Wrinkles wasn’t only curious about me, he was curious about his adult manatee pal he seemed to be socializing with and other manatees in the springs.
After exiting the water I was greeted with the most excellent surprise! A Birthday Cake with one of my fav manatee images on it! Thanks Meredith!😍
As I recall on my Bday in 2015, it was a little warm but a curious gal manatee wanted to add salutations. I had trouble keeping her off of my dome port! Sometimes manatees get very curious and that’s when one’s slow backup skills are tested.
Meredith joined me underwater on my birthday in 2014. Thanks again Meredith! We had some gorgeous clear blue water and a number of interested manatees. Pretty Sister Spring, Feb. 11, 2014. This also became the cover of the Visitors Guide 2015.
2013, there were quite a few manatees in the springs this year. I picked this one for a memorable photo I took on my birthday because photos of several manatees interacting in clearer water is uncommon. These manatees are forming a sort of “conga line”. It consists of a female manatee pursued by a male with the female’s calf as the caboose. The manatee in the distance was socializing with the others too.
2012 was a warm winter. On Feb. 11, 2012 it was a Saturday with one of the interesting Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge Open Houses. I spent a rare day un-submerged observing manatees. There were lectures by Dr. Bob Bonde, USFWS Visitor Services Director, Ivan Vicente, an endangered species parade of puppets and lots of manatees as seen here through the cypress trees. We used to have such excellent Refuge Open Houses with extremely informative lectures and activities!
And we come to 2011. Besides this being one of my fav manatee images of all time, it has a compelling story behind it. I will add before I relate the story that Florida Power and Light’s Manatee Lagoon really liked the photograph too and licensed it for long-term usage. Here it is on their website:
The story behind the smooching manatees photo is a story of manatee and human tenderness and perseverance. On the manatee’s end, earlier that day I observed this little manatee alone in the springs, seemingly forlorn. It is not unusual for mothers to leave their calves in the safe warm springs while mom goes out to find food or cavort with male manatees. What was interesting is when this other adult female arrived she seemed to check on the alone calf, nuzzle him, encourage him. I knew it wasn’t the mother because she never nursed him the whole time I observed them (which was for over an hour). The female manatee just seemed to want to comfort the forlorn calf. Was it a female relative? A female manatee who had lost a calf of her own? Or are manatees sensitive and altruistic? Regardless the calf seemed cheered up and buoyed by the intimate attention!
On the personal side to this story, this photo was taken 12 days after I finished 10 months of medical treatment for breast cancer. Of course, yes, it was devastating to be diagnosed at 51, and without a family history of this disease. But I fought it like one has to do with cancer. Fortunately, all my doctors wanted me to get back into the water with the manatees and helped me reach my goal. I recall going through radiation and the staff even came in early around Christmas to treat me before the office opened so I could make it to see the manatees underwater. I tasked myself with kayaking a mile each way before I would get in the water, just to build my strength back up. As an additional good omen, this birthday I saw Dr. Bob Bonde and he gave me an encouraging hug after hearing what I was fighting. Also on this day my husband, Theo, joined me on the kayak to the springs and in the water. In fact he is responsible for alerting me to these two manatees. I had observed the female taking an interest in the calf but I became distracted by a nearby pregnant manatee. Sometimes calmly observing a pregnant manatee can reward you with witnessing the movement of the calf in the womb! So I was rather irritated when my husband touched my shoulder. But when he said, “There’s an interesting behavior here you might want to see…”, I was immensely grateful! This photograph resulted! Yay!
Hopefully none of you gals will ever have to experience what I did but if you ever know anyone who really wants to get back in the water, a drysuit, pantyhose cut off at the hip and water-based lubricant all do wonders for getting back out of a drysuit seals and wetsuit hood when your strength is a bit less. Also my head was still really sticky from the chemo so the pantyhose over the head (like a bank robber, hah) really helped slip off that neck seal!
The 2011 birthday with the manatees remains pretty much unmatched! But then it sort of had to be that way didn’t it? As my husband said ” The manatees will love you even more now because they have scars too…”.
That’s why birthdays with the manatees are so special and I will keep up the tradition for a long, long, long, long time…
Best and Kind Regards, Carol