Blue Spring State Park is a breathtaking visual masterpiece of nature at work. As a “first-magnitude” spring, Blue Spring State Park is home to spring waters that remain at 72° year-round and is a huge gathering place for manatees.
Manatee season in Blue Spring State Park takes place in the winter. When manatees whose low metabolisms can’t handle colder waters flock to stable temperatures. Cold Stress Syndrome is something that manatees are very sensitive to, and colder waters can potentially kill them.
The best month to see the manatees at Blue Spring State Park is during the winter. No timeframe’s set in stone since this is Florida and winter is a fleeting thing. Manatees will pour into Blue Spring whenever there is a cold snap, and water temperatures start to slide below 72° everywhere else.
Months with Highest Manatee Visibility
If you live close to Blue Spring State Park, you can gauge the best time to go by paying attention to the weather. Manatees are free to come in, socialize, and leave any time they want.
If you want to see a massive gathering, plan your trips on short notice and in the face of a cold snap.
November through March, you will almost always see manatees in Blue Spring State Park. Massive gatherings that occur during cold snaps are entirely natural, and the public’s observations do not disturb the manatees while they socialize among each other and hang out in the warmer spring waters.
From April to October, the only manatees you are likely to spot in the springs are those that wander in because they want to. However, during the spring, fall, and summer months, manatees are out and about, seeking and consuming food, so you won’t see them relaxing at Blue Spring State Park very often.
Can You Swim with the Manatees at Blue Spring State Park?
Blue Spring State Park features crystal clear water. When you see manatees there, you get an unclouded view of them, even when they are completely submerged.
However, if you want to swim with them, you will have to go elsewhere.
Blue Spring State Park does offer snorkeling and diving venues, just not with the manatees. Also, children are only allowed to swim when accompanied by an adult. So it’s not one of those places where you can grab your flippers and dive right in.
Blue Spring also allows tubing as long as they are individual tubes. The water has a flow rate, and you can enter one end of the water (the upper entry) and eventually come out to the main swimming area.
Snorkeling and scuba diving are allowed as well. As far as the manatees are concerned, swimming only takes place during the summer, when they’re out feeding, and not in the springs at all.
How Many Manatees Travel to Blue Spring State Park Each Year?
From November to March of each year, manatees come and go. During cold snaps or just the coldest part of the year, the peak number of manatees is around 500.
When the park first opened in the 70s, there were only a handful of manatees that peaked at around 30.
Since the park has become such a foundational part of the manatee’s lives, that number has grown significantly. But, of course, manatees don’t just use Blue Spring State Park as a place to go to get warm, either.
It’s also a safe haven. More manatees are killed by boat propellers each year than anything else.
Blue Spring is also a safe haven that protects them from harmful algae blooms, habitat loss, pollution, and cold stress syndrome. With those kinds of protections on offer, it’s no wonder they flock to Blue Spring State Park every year.
If you show up during the colder parts of the winter, you’re bound to see scores, if not hundreds, of manatees at Blue Spring. Manatees use this haven to socialize in the way that manatees do. Mothers will also nurse their calves there, as there is little in the way of danger from predation.
How Do Manatees Get to Blue Spring State Park?
Most people don’t realize that manatees are just as comfortable in freshwater as they are in salt water. For instance, running into manatees in the Florida Keys is a fairly common thing, especially around piers.
A good number of manatees navigate up and down St. Johns River to reach Blue Spring State Park each year, and they know when to do it because the water level of St. Johns River drops during the winter.
St. Johns River is a large portion of their journey but not the only one. Blue Spring is not directly connected to St. John River, so manatees must go off the beaten path, swimming up a tributary to reach the Spring.
They can also feel the drop in water temperature. So all it takes is those two notable events to get the manatees moving toward Blue Spring State Park.
If there is one thing about Florida, that is absolute. It’s the changing weather.
The high during a cold snap might be 60°F on Monday, but when the cold snap moves on, it’s back to 80°F. So long as there is a substantial period between one cold snap and the next, manatees will come and go from Blue Spring State Park.
Why are Manatees so Vulnerable to the Cold?
Most people that see manatees for the first time, with limited knowledge about them, would assume that their size means they are well-insulated animals. They’re nicknamed “sea cows,” after all.
Manatees are just big animals, and all of that fat you see is not really fat. The insulating layer on their bodies is only about an inch thick. Manatees start to suffer in waters that drop below 68°F for extended periods.
While 65°F is not likely to kill a manatee in the short term, it will if nothing changes. A manatee is susceptible to hypothermia and other sicknesses from remaining too cold for too long.
Blue Spring State Park is the perfect habitat throughout the winter period. Since the water comes from the earth, it remains 72°F all year round. The only thing that might change a degree or two is the very surface of the water. Otherwise, it remains warm enough to play host to manatees in the winter.
Can You Touch the Manatees?
You cannot go down and touch the manatees in Blue Spring State Park. However, if you are in Florida for an extended period and spend a lot of time around the water, you may find an opportunity outside a state park.
Manatees are curious and if you show a little patience, stand close to where they are submerged and hold your hand out. One or two may swim up to see what you are all about.
“Manatee Season” runs from November to March each year. The months between November and March are better since it’s typically colder, and cold snaps are more frequent.
Cold snaps don’t last as long in March, so the odds of seeing a manatee are not as good. But if you want to see them in their natural habitat, Blue Spring State Park is your best bet.
The park is located north of Orlando, about an hour’s drive. You’ll find plenty of other things to do while visiting, such as hiking, swimming, canoeing, and fishing. So whether you’re a manatee enthusiast or not, Blue Spring State Park is worth a visit.