Youth from Mayport Elementary made the trip down to Blue Spring State Park on the 1st of February to see the gentle giants they have been learning about the last few weeks.
Dr. Maia McGuire created a manatee curriculum several years ago to implement into schools. Over the course of several weeks, students learn about these cute cetaceans while also practicing science, reading, writing, and math. As an accumulation of their studies, they have the opportunity to see many manatees all in one place, at Blue Springs State Park.
Originally the home of Louis Thursby, Blue Spring became a State Park not long after the famous explorer, Jacques Cousteau, filmed manatees here in 1971. As the spring is a constant temperature of about 72 degrees, creatures (such as the manatee) who don’t tolerate the drop in water temperature during the winter, flock to the crystal clear waters.
During the field trip, students were asked to rotate jobs of either “recorder” or “observer”. Recorders kept records of water temperature, manatee counts, behaviors, and other wildlife seen by the observers. Their excitement rose as they made their way down the boardwalk that lined the spring run. Official manatee count by the park that day was 257. As the spring run is only about three quarters of a mile long, students were able to see many manatees swimming, rolling around, and nursing young calves. Their excitement peaked when an alligator appeared on the opposite bank sluggishly trying to soak in any warm rays of sun.
“Are the gators and the manatees friends?” I was asked by a young girl.
“Mmm maybe not like best friends, but they are acquaintances.” I replied.
Much to my own surprise, while listening to the park volunteer’s presentation, I learned that in fact alligators and manatees may be a little more than just acquaintances – they may be somewhat friendly to each other.
Check out this video about Blue Springs State Park with some great manatee, alligator footage.
After their presentation, the students had a picnic lunch with more manatee interaction for entertainment. Dr. McGuire, our 4-H agent Amy Hedstrom, and myself walked around with pieces of manatee skeleton for the kids to observe. It’s amazing what facts 3rd graders will retain when taught in a hands on learning environment! Most all remembered about the “marching molars” and how the manatee replaces worn down teeth with new ones throughout their lifetime.
The manatee field trip was a great success. I highly recommend making your own trip to Blue Spring State Park during the winter to see the manatees (and their friends) for yourself. The park is also open to swimming in the warmer months when the manatees move out of the run to warmer waters.