Finally—a manatee moment
Manatees and a new team member during the Silver Springs Professional Dive Team work on the boats and shoot manatee on Sunday November 1, 2020. [Alan Youngblood/Special to the Ocala Gazette]
Members of the Silver Springs Professional Dive Team, of which I am a member, scuba dive in the headsprings at Silver Springs State Park once a month, early in the morning, as we volunteer to clean the glass on the glass-bottom boats. When we get there, I always ask the boat captains if they have seen any manatees.
“Oh, you should have been here yesterday. We had a mother and baby, and their brothers and sisters, hanging out for hours.” That is always the answer I get.
I have been trying to get pictures of manatees in Silver Springs for years.
Finally, on Nov. 1, I got my wish.
As soon as we entered the water from the glass-bottom boat dock, I looked to where safety diver Gary Cochran was pointing. About 50 yards down from the mainspring, two manatees were enjoying the thick eel grass.
The dive team members all backed off and let me photograph them. The two, which are part of what I estimate to be a group of six manatees living in the Silver River, weren’t scared. They just didn’t want to be bothered while they ate their eel grass.
I believe they are among the very few manatees that have made it past the flood gates in the Rodman Dam, down through the Ocklawaha River and into the Silver River.
The Florida manatee is a native species found in many state waterways. As the temperatures cool, manatees head for warm waters, which, for them, includes springs and power plant discharge basins. There are several manatee viewing areas around the state and, while Silver Springs is not shown on the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s viewing site map (https://myfwc.com/education/wildlife/manatee/where-to-see), it is possible you may see them there.
The only place where swimming with the mammals is allowed is in the area around Crystal River and Kings Bay—but only with very strict guidelines and monitoring.
Manatees are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act and the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act, which states: “It is unlawful for any person, at any time, intentionally or negligently, to annoy, molest, harass, or disturb any manatee.”
If you are planning a visit to Silver Springs State Park this winter, be sure to keep an eye out and you also may be treated to the sight of these wonderful native residents enjoying one of our most treasured local resources.