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Tampa Travel Diary 3: The Manatees

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Tampa Electric Company’s power generation station in Apollo Beach, Florida doesn’t sound like the sort of place one would go for some nature viewing, but it actually is. One of the power station’s byproducts is warm water, which makes the nearby channel a gathering place for manatees whenever the water temperature in the bay drops below 68 degrees F (20 degrees C). With the weather in the Tampa area so bright and sunny last weekend, we decided to pay a visit to the manatees.

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The obligatory “pose-with-the-funny-statue” shot.

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None of my photos of the manatees came out very well. With the bright sunlight, I ended up getting photos of reflections of the sky in the water rather than of the big lumbering creatures beneath the surface. Oddly enough, the best way to view them was through polarized sunglasses; you could see them quite clearly under the water with them on.

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There’s more to see than just manatees at the Manatee Viewing Station. Since it’s right by the water, there are plenty of mangroves, some of which they’ve fashioned into the tunnel-like path in the photo above.

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The warm water is also a magnet for all sorts of fish, sharks included, as well as the birds that like to feast on them. The cormorant in the photo above is taking a well-earned break; a few minutes I took the photo, he had gone through the ordeal of catching a fish, fending off another bird who was trying to take it from him, and then managing to swallow it whole. A number of us watched the epic struggle for fifteen minutes, and the bird even got some applause after he’d downed the fish.

“Eeeeeeewwww!” said one of the kids who’d watched the bird devour its meal in a single, triumphant gulp.

“That’s the circle of life,” said her father, using that very nice way of explaining to kids that certain life-generating and -sustaining acts, once you break them down into their components parts, are a little bit gross.

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There are also a number of butterfly-attracting plants that have been purposely placed there, so it’s also a great spot for butterfly viewing.

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The place is covered in signs asking people not to alter the manatee’s natural behaviour by feeding them or giving them water. And of course, not to “molest, disturb or pursue” them. Given that the Greeks used to think that manatees were sirens (as in hot chicks – no doubt the product of a lack of optometry in classical times and some very bad ouzo), the order not to molest, disturb or pursue them takes on a whole new meaning.

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