More than 500 manatees gather in Crystal River

Posted at 5:45 PM, Feb 09, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-10 05:31:54-05
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service tells ABC Action News we are seeing the largest consistent gathering of manatees at Three Sisters Springs in Crystal River in recent history.
More than 500 have been in the waters, brought there because of a cold front in the Gulf of Mexico. 
Manatees need to conserve their energy so they can make long journeys to find food.
“The water here for them, even though it’s only 72 degrees, it’s a warm bath for them. It’s a way for them to remain warm while the cold fronts move through,” said Ivan Vicente, visitor services specialist. 
The manatees float like giant boulders in the scenic Three Sisters Springs.
“I think it’s really pretty,” said one child.
“Fantastic. Love it! Don’t have these in Maine,” said a woman.
So many manatees attract quite a crowd. 
People are able to get views on the deck all the way around the springs.
There are also tour boats and kayakers getting as close as they can.
The Pickering family from Atlanta just got out of the water after snorkeling. 
“To look next to you and the water is full of manatees. His face is literally a foot away from you, it’s an amazing experience,” Chad Pickering said.
There are strict rules in this area. You can’t touch the manatees or even swim after them.
When it’s this crowded in the interior of the springs, officials can’t allow any people in the water.
“Trying to find that balance is a little difficult because how many manatees is too many to allow recreation? So many concerns that we address on a day to day basis,” Vicente said.
Everywhere you look, there are manatees here. But video doesn’t do it just justice. You really need to come and see it for yourself.
“When we decided to do this we were down in Walt Disney World so it just worked out perfectly and look what we came upon. It’s beautiful,” said Pickering.
There have been ongoing talks about putting a limit on how many people can swim in the springs during the open season.
Saturday is a great chance to see the manatees. There is free admission to Three Sisters and shuttle buses to get you there every 10 minutes from King's Bay Plaza.