FORT MYERS, Fla.- The recent cool temperatures in Southwest Florida have manatees gathering in the hundreds at Manatee Park, taking refuge in the warm waters discharged from the Florida Power & Light plant. The park and FPL plant are across from each other on State Route 80, just east of I-75 in Lee County.
"When Gulf temperatures get to 68 degrees or below that, manatees start to get cold," said Tim Martell, who operates kayak tours at the park. "They come here for their safety and protection, to avoid the ill effects of hypothermia."
The manatee convention not only brought hundreds of visitors to see them at the park, but also some researchers from Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota. A spokeswoman for the lab said that the surveys provide a gold mine of information on manatee behavior in order to best understand and conserve them.
Many of the massive mammals had marks on their hides from boat propellers.
"If there ever was an animal that is constantly in trouble, it's certainly the manatee," Martell said.
He said that the slow-moving sea cows are susceptible to everything red tide, cold weather and getting tangled in fishing line. Just last month, a young manatee was rescues at the park that had suffered a collapsed lung from a propeller strike.
Dara and George Blaty took Martell's kayak tour, expecting to see some manatees, but amazed at how many they got close to.
"Usually you'd see 4 or 5 lined up," Dara said. "They'd come up and take a breath. That was fun."
"This is probably one of the best times of the year to come and see a manatee," Martell said. "This is what we would call peak season."
Martell said that he expects good manatee viewing at the park through the rest of February and into March.