The United States Fish & Wildlife Service were forces to temporarily shut down part of Florida’s Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge after nearly 300 manatee gathers in the warm waters of the Three Sisters Springs forcing out swimmers and kayakers. The spring was expected to open again on Tuesday but remained closed when the manatees returned at high tide.
The high numbers may be a result of greater protection in the area and because habitat areas in other parts of the state are being lost. While a gathering of 300 does seem quite remarkable, it is not uncommon for manatees to gather in these numbers at Three Sisters Springs and last year, a similarly large and potentially record-setting gathering also forced the temporary closure of Three Springs. During colder months manatee congregate in the hot springs providing much-needed relief from falling water temperatures.
Last month, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported a record 1,047 manatees in Citrus County with an estimated 6,000 manatees across the entire state. The average adult manatee measures around 10 feet long and can weigh as much as 1,200 pounds. They are known as gentle and slow animals who do not pose a danger to humans, but staff at Crystal River encourages swimmers to keep their distance and respect the creatures’ space.