Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Manatees of Citrus County

Yesterday (2/15) we had a kayak/manatee viewing trip at King's Bay in Crystal River. I was leading 6 people in 5 kayaks. Launching from Hunter Springs park, we made our way around Pete's Pier into a head wind of about 12 mph. Just enough to cause some waves and spray over the bow. The day was sunny, with air temps in the mid to upper 50's, perfect paddling weather.
Stopped at Shatz Island for a leg stretch and part two of the lesson on navigating in wind, and a look at the bay. Saw our first manatee exiting the canal into the bay. Several swim/harass boats were leaving as well. But there were more to come.

Made it along the canal under the bridge and saw several more heading out to the bay. Stopping at Gator Hole, had about 6 individual manatees including cow and juvenile, lazing about breathing and moving slowly.
Its always an anxious moment heading further up the canal to Three Sisters/Idiot's Delight, as you don't know how many swim/harass boats are going to be there.
Approximately 6 more manatees along the way before rounding the bend to take in the Idiot's corner. Low and behold, we sight a USFWS boat tied up next to another boat at the santuary ropes. Approximately 15 swimmers in the water, and some filming going on.

We staged for a few minutes and then made a deliberate insertion through the pipes, avoiding bodies in the water and up into the rocky canal of Three Sisters.
It was ooh and ahh for the visitors from north of the border as they spied the spring area for the first time. I had to break the news that all the white sand they were appreciating, was more un-natural due to the affects of human feet, nutrients causing algal growth, and the lack of re-growth.
The water temp was nice and warm to the touch, with only about 4 people in the water back in the springs. No manatees were present here, being chased out earlier by swimmers.

After a pause of about 15 minutes with some picture taking, it back out through the gauntlet of bodies, and drifting over the dozen or so manatees in the main canal/channel.

After being nearly hit by an incompetent fedaral employee with lack of seamanship skills in motor boat backing, we made it safely out of the area and down the canal. Only one other blip, in telling a speeding boat in the canal, the same one that had been doing business with the USFWS boat earlier, to slow down to idle speed, we saw at least a half dozen more manatees before hitting the bridge area.

Then it was a nice tail wind at our backs, helping to push us along around 5 mph, round the corner of Pete's Pier and a semi-straight shot back to Hunter's Park. We were out around two hours, and saw upwards of 40 manatees. All in all, a good day for observing the over wintering manatees.

At the launch site, I spoke with some visitors from Ohio about their canoe registration decals and the lack of service or amenities that they receive for paying $22 every three years. After loading the kayaks on the trailer, it was off to a Heritage Village area eatery called The Highlander.
Owned and operated by a Scottish family, with great soup, and sandwiches.

We're going back next Sunday, 2/21....

See you on the water!!

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