Manatees at Three Sisters
Manatees are large herbivorous mammals that graze in the bay of Crystal River, Florida during the summer months and migrate in large numbers to the warm spring waters in winter. Crystal River is home to the Florida subspecies of the West Indian Manatee. During winter months, these gentle giants take advantage of the warm springs in Kings Bay to survive the colder ocean waters.
Three Sisters Springs is an important warm-water spring refuge for manatees during cold weather. The constant flow of warm spring water keeps manatees safe from cold water temperatures, which can cause cold stress, injury or even death. The springs are part of the Crystal River watershed, and greater King’s Bay.
Three Sisters Springs is the only "confined-water body in the United States" open for the public to see wintering manatees, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge.
The Crystal River area is considered the largest natural winter refuge in the world for manatees and is comprised of 70 springs, including Three Sisters Springs, where between 400 and 500 manatees can be found during the winter months.
Manatees are often referred to as sea cows and are everywhere in Crystal River. Murals depict them on the walls of main street, and manatee-themed mailboxes adorn the front lawns of many houses. Two manatee statues wearing bow ties and fezzes greet visitors as they pull into their hotel.
Crystal River is the only place in the world where people can legally swim with manatees in their natural habitat. During the winter months, hundreds of manatees head to the bays of Crystal River to warm up and escape the colder temperatures throughout the Gulf of Mexico.
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