OCEAN CONSERVATION – Cows are awesome. The sea — also awesome. Put the two together and what do you get? Manatees! “Sea Cows,” nicknamed as such due to their munching habits (best described as constant), are some of the gentlest aquatic beings on the planet. However,  forces like climate change and boating collisions threaten the Florida manatee’s existence, thrusting them into the “endangered” category. Read on to learn more about the current state of Florida manatees, and enjoy these remarkable sea cow photos. — Global Animal

From The International League of Conservation Photographers:

The conservation status of the Florida manatee remains a controversy as researchers investigate what historical numbers might have been in comparison to current day estimates. All the while, man continues to encroach on the manatee’s native habitat, forcing a co-existence between humans and manatees.

As part of his project “Man and Manatee,” iLCP photographer Neil Ever Osborne worked to capture aerial images of Gulf Coast areas where manatees cluster in winter months. During the colder weather, manatees seek out warmer water to sustain them. These areas can range from protected tepid waters near natural springs, to shallow waters near power plants where warm discharge water attracts the gentle animals.

A flight donated by LightHawk helped Neil create a current day assessment of this charismatic species and the challenges it faces living in close proximity to heavily populated areas. This partnership between iLCP photographers and LightHawk developed into an initiative called Tripods in the Sky.

[Images and captions courtesy of iLCP.]

Florida Manatee
Adult Florida manatee surfacing for breath. Trichechus manatus latirostris. Florida, USA.
Mother and Baby Manatee Calf
Female Florida manatee with calf in Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. Trichechus manatus latirostris. Florida, USA.
Tourists observe a Florida manatee
Tourists observe a Florida manatee near Three Sisters Spring. Trichechus manatus latirostris. King’s Bay, Crystal River, Florida, USA.
Tourists Watch Manatees in Crystal River, Florida
Tourists observe Florida manatees outside Three Sisters Spring. Trichechus manatus latirostris. King’s Bay, Crystal River, Florida, USA..
Florida Manatees
Florida manatees in Three Sisters Spring. Trichechus manatus latirostris. King’s Bay, Crystal River, Florida, USA.
Boat Collisions are Responsible for Half of All Manatee Deaths
The identity of endangered Florida manatees can be determined by researchers who know the patterns of the permanent scars. Some of the animals exhibit propeller slashes from more than 40 strikes. While many manatees live on after these encounters, more than half of manatee deaths in Florida are caused by boats. Trichechus manatus latirostris. Florida, USA.
Florida Manatees at Blue Springs State Park
At Blue Springs State Park, endangered Florida manatees gather in droves to keep warm in the tepid waters of the natural spring during the cold months of the year. Researchers are learning about individual animals who frequent the same site year after year to survive the winter. Trichechus manatus latirostris. Florida, USA.
Endangered Florida Manatee
Florida manatee entering Three Sisters Spring through pillars that prevent boaters from entering the sanctuary. Trichechus manatus latirostris. King’s Bay, Crystal River, Florida, USA.
Many Manatees Huddle for Warmth in Winter
Snorkelers observe Florida manatees congregating in Three Sisters Spring. Trichechus manatus latirostris. King’s Bay, Florida, USA. Aerial photography was made possible by LightHawk.

Dispatch from the Field, by Neil Ever Osborne:

“Within the congregation, I count more than 20 sedentary animals. Plump bodies of gray mass clustered together, limbs touching perhaps for the sake of warmth. Only gentle gestures among the idle creatures suggest a common interest: conserve energy. At the Three Sister’s Springs near Crystal River in Citrus County, Florida, water temperatures remains a consistent 72F (22C). Here the Florida manatee, a subspecies of the West Indian manatee, finds a well-known wintering haven in the tepid waters of the natural spring. Fiction will tell us in Homer’s Odyssey, Sirens were half-woman, half-bird creatures, later to be confused as mermaids by other authors. As nomenclature stuck in books, science named the Order Sirenia after the tale that suggested manatees where once living mermaids. The 3 extant species of manatee and their close relative, the dugong, now belong in this grouping. At Crystal River in the cold season, the tourists are there by the dozens on any given day. At an arm’s reach away, omnipresent humans encounter one of nature’s most placid species. Some of the inquisitive animals do not mind. Some of the overzealous tourists get too close. Man and manatee co-exist here and the tale has the promise of success, pending sound conservation decisions and a decrease in the threats that continue to reduce manatee numbers around the state of Florida.”