Webcam Watches Warm Manatee Sanctuary in Citrus County
First published by Tbo.com, December 6, 2010
Snorklers swim around manatees near Three Sisters Springs. Game officials have installed a webcam to monitor the sea cows and people around them.
With cold weather smacking the Tampa Bay region this week and hard-freeze warnings in counties to the north, manatees are stacking up in the warm water of Three Sisters Springs in Citrus County.
"They migrate to the springs," Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokeswoman Karen Parker said, "because it's a constant 72 degrees. Last year, when it got really cold, they were stacked in Three Sisters. It was wall-to-wall manatees."
Three Sisters Springs, a small tributary to Kings Bay in Crystal River, also is a favorite for divers, snorkelers and manatee watchers, and interaction between the species can sometimes be harmful to the sea cows. To keep track, a webcam was set up at the springs by the commission last year, she said.
Now that Florida waters are getting chilly and manatees are finding the warmth of the springs, the video is streaming again.
Parker said that over the years, there have been several reports of manatee harassment by swimmers in Three Sisters.
"We've had quite a few reports of people climbing on them and trying to ride them," Parker said.
She said an officer needs to see the infraction before a citation can be handed out.
"We can't be everywhere all the time," she said. "This (camera) gives us another option to make sure manatees are not harassed."
Harassing a manatee is a second-degree misdemeanor that carries a maximum penalty of 60 days in jail and a $500 fine.
Parker said state and federal wildlife officials, who are involved because manatees are an endangered species, encourage passive viewing by manatee watchers.
"That means if manatee comes to you and initiates handling," that's OK, Parker said. "Some of them do like to get their stomachs rubbed."
But trying to hitch a ride or stand on a manatee's back is different, she said.
The camera is focused on the sanctuary within the springs, an area where people are not allowed. The sanctuary bars swimmers from going into certain areas of the springs from November though March, she said.
"Manatees can still interact with people, but the sanctuary provides them with a place to get away from people," Parker said. "And the manatees know exactly where the line is. I don't know if they see the rope or not, but they just line up there" inside the sanctuary when they don't want to interact with humans.
The public can view the webcam at manateecam.viewnetcam.com; click on the "single" tab at the top of the page. After a few minutes, visitors will be prompted to install ActiveX controllers the first time they visit.
The solar-powered camera operates from dawn to dusk. Only 30 people can access the website at one time. If additional people try to access it, they will receive an error message until space opens up.
Viewers can also click on the camera icon to take a snapshot of the video.