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See wild manatees up close!
Manatees are fascinating creatures, like a gentle, warm water version of a walrus without the fierce tusks. Only about 3,000 West Indian manatees live in Florida, but unlike many rare animals, you have a good chance of seeing manatees in the wild if you go to the right place at the right time.
Manatees love warm water. In summer, Florida has plenty of warm water, and manatees are hard to find. They even venture out into the sea, and have been found as far away as Texas and Virginia. But in winter they seek out hot springs.
About an hour's drive north of the Orlando area is the Blue Spring State Park. The springs at the park have a constant temperature of 73 degrees, even in winter. So the best time to take a trip to see manatees is on a cooler day (or the day after a cooler day) between mid November and mid March.
Take I-4 north to Exit 114, then take route 472 north about 2 miles to just north of Orange City. Follow the signs for Blue Spring State Park (left onto US 17 south for half a mile, then right on French Avenue for two miles). Pay $5 entrance fee (that’s for the car load, not per person).
At Blue Spring State Park, the warm springs attract manatees in winter. There are often 20 or more there between the middle of November and the end of March, the colder the weather the more there are.
Manatees seem to show little fear of humans, and you can watch them close up from the bank. It is a real treat to see a mother and her young.
You can swim in the water at Blue Spring, but you must take care not to molest the manatees. You can rent snorkeling gear at the park. They can be curious creatures, and they may approach you. They are large animals, up to 12 feet long, but these gentle vegetarians are unlikely to do you any harm.
If you want to be sure of seeing manatees, call 386 775 3663 before you leave. The state park rangers count the manatees every morning, so they can tell you the number present in the park that day.
The park has picnic tables and hiking trails. Also at the Park, you can take a boat trip on the St Johns River, to see alligators and birds. Call 386 917 0724 for information on boat trips.
The park can get busy at weekends, so it is best to take this trip during the week.
Author: Martin and Susan Hockey
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