Kings Bay of Crystal River, FL, is home to the wintering manatee. The bay is fed by Three Sisters Spring which has a constant water temperature of 73 degrees, year round. These warm waters attract the manatee when the Gulf of Mexico cools down as they struggle in temps below 68 degrees.

Three Sisters Spring

Three Sisters Spring

This time of year, they mostly sleep, close to the surface of the water or on the bottom of the waterway. They are slow moving, with only a nose, or tip of the tail visible above water, so they can be easily harmed by boats. Many of them bare scars to prove a run in with some watercraft.

The sun caused a glare, but you can the tan line of a scar.

The sun caused a glare, but you can the tan line of a scar.

That is why the area around Three Sisters Spring is protected. By land, the area is fenced off with the only access to it by shuttle. A boardwalk surrounds the springs for unobtrusive observations. By water, the channel leading to the spring is obstructed so that no watercraft may enter.


Manatees can swim in and out, but boats cannot get in.

Surprisingly, the closest relative to a manatee is the elephant. When you see pictures of their faces side-by-side, there is a resemblance. Their skin is as tough as an elephant’s, which is why they can survive a cut from a propeller blade.  However, they cannot withstand such a cut if it breaks a rib.


A rib puncturing a lung is serious because their lungs stretch two-thirds of the length of their backs. Thus, while sleeping in the shallow waters, their heads hang down and their backs arch up in the center.


When we first observed the manatees in the water, it just looked like a bunch of rocks. This time of the year they mostly sleep. They slow their metabolism and move very little so that they do not need to eat as much. Every ten to fourteen days they swim nine miles back to the gulf for food where they chow down on various sea grasses.


All the darker spots are manatees. There were almost 100 of them scattered in this area.


Manatees weigh 60 pounds when they are born and can grow to between 800 and 1000 pounds. In captivity, they can live up to 60 years old. In the wild it is more like 20 years.


Since manatees have no natural predators, they are very independent. They move in and out of the springs and to the gulf on their own volition. The only family unit that exits is cow and calf. A calf hangs by its mother for two to three years. The mother teaches it where to find food; basically how to survive. Then, off the calf goes.


There is no particular mating season so calves can be born any time of the year. The gestation period is 13 months. Calves nurse from their mothers. Mammary glands are located right behind the front flippers.



As well as scars, their backs are covered with algae. This provides food for other fish that eat the algae and clean the manatees.

Two manatee tails being "cleaned" by fish.

Two manatee tails being “cleaned” by fish.

Every ten to twenty minutes, they need to breathe. Slowly, a head comes up with only the nose above the surface. A flap of skin opens and water sprays out with the exhaled air; a quick gulp of air flows in. The flap closes and the nose is back under water.

Starting to move!

Starting to move!

Nose coming up!

Nose coming up!

Flap open.

Flap open. (Notice the tiny hole on the gray part across the snout.)

Sometimes, bubbles are noticed at the opposite end of the manatee. Just like little babies sitting in a tub, air comes out the bottom end. I guess that comes from a vegetarian diet. (We did not take a picture of this out of respect for the manatees. :)) Sleep on gentle manatees, sleep on!


1 Response to “Manatees”

  1. 1 Janyce Jorgensen February 27, 2015 at 6:35 am

    Wow-God’s creation is amazing!

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