The temperatures are dropping, you’ve pulled out the heavy sweaters from the back of the closet, and snow is falling from the sky: It must be winter time…unless you’re in the Florida Keys. Without all these obvious cues, how do we know it’s winter here? Believe it or not, it does cool off here just a little bit, and once our water temperatures dip below 68 degrees Fahrenheit something very dramatic happens: all the manatees disappear. These amazing mammals, so common in the canals of the Florida Keys all summer long, move en masse to warm water springs in the winter time.
Despite their robust shape, manatees actually have very little body fat. Without this insulation to protect them, their only defense against the cold is to leave. Luckily for the manatees, Florida is the home to several natural warm-water springs that bubble up from underground. These springs remain a delightful 75 degrees year round, just perfect for a manatee. Two springs hosting the largest winter gathering of manatees are Blue Springs on the east coast of Florida and Crystal River on the west coast. Manatees have even been known to search out manmade warm water sources such as the output drains at power plants!
Manatees are protected in this country under the Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act. They are also incredibly loved, and so every winter people travel en masse, just like the manatees, to Blue Springs and Crystal River to see them. From boardwalks, boats, or even underwater, people can slowly, quietly, and unobtrusively have the priceless opportunity to see these gentle giants up close. With specific direction, and requirements for “Manatee Manners”, people from all over the world have learned to love this animal who, legend has it, was the inspiration for the first mermaid sighting. And for those who are unable to make the trek this winter, the Save the Manatee Club provides a live feed from the manatees’ wintering grounds on Manatee TV.
Why is all of this so important? Because when the water warms up, and the manatees once again venture into oceans, bays, rivers, and other heavily-traveled waterways, these slow-moving herbivores will find themselves in dangerous territory. With boat strikes posing serious threats to manatees’ survival, the most important thing we can do to protect them is to remain watchful from our boats and respectful of speed limits. What is the one thing that may cause a hurried family or an impatient boater to slow down and be careful in manatee habitat? Love and respect for these animals. So, with our absolute belief that up-close interactions with animals inspire conservation behavior toward these animals and their habitats, we encourage you to enjoy the manatees this winter and ensure their survival next summer.
“The Florida Keys: it’s like going to the Caribbean without needing a passport!” We hear this all the time from our American visitors appreciating the simplicity of their in-country travel, but for our international guests coming all the way to the Keys, a little assistance from a knowledgeable source is very helpful. With so many of our visitors coming from the United Kingdom, we are grateful to work with informed and ethical travel operators like Virgin Holidays.
More than just a travel agency, Virgin Holidays has a non-profit foundation called Virgin Unitewhich strives to “…unite great people and entrepreneurial ideas, reinventing how we live and work to help make people’s lives better. We believe business can and must be a force for good in the world – and that this is also good for business!” While this business philosophy extends to all areas of the Virgin Holidays destinations, it plays a very key role in their organized trips to destinations with whales and dolphins in human care. Wanting to remain true to their mission of ensuring that “business is a force for good in the world”, Virgin Unite recently published the Virgin Pledge on Sea Mammalswhich defines their commitment to ending the wild capture of whales and dolphins for tourism.
The Virgin Pledge was a result of thorough research, unbiased investigation, and taking the time to truly listen to all sides of the issue of marine mammals being cared for at zoos and aquariums, as well as the demands of their own clientele who expect stimulating and conflict-free travel opportunities. Dolphin Connection has proudly signed the Virgin Pledge on Sea Mammals without hesitation. After all, we have never and will never collect dolphins from the wild. We are proud to work with Virgin to create enriching and enjoyable experiences that transform the way its customers engage with and learn about the oceans and marine life.
We are excited about the possibilities this new partnership will offer, and we are not alone: over 30 marine mammal facilities around the world have signed the pledge. Together, zoos, aquariums, and ethical businesses and citizens can work to inspire conservation on behalf of animals everywhere. With this in mind, Virgin Holidays recently sent their Responsible Business Manager, Mirieme Hill, to attend the annual meeting of the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums’ Education Committee. Wanting to know and truly understand more about our dedication to conservation education, Ms. Hill attending the entire three day workshop hosted last month at SeaWorld San Diego. Impressed by the quality and diversity of programming offered by members of the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums, Ms. Hill opened up the potential for partnerships even wider. Pre-visit programming, post-visit programming, coordination of follow-up conservation activities? The possibilities are endless when you allow ethical, dedicated businesses to truly listen to the requests of their clients for enriching activities that can change their lives and the planet for the better.
So as you plan your next visit to Dolphin Connection in the Florida Keys, you can feel confident knowing that we are part of a larger group of organizations who work to ensure that your heart, your soul, and your mind can all feel good about your well-earned vacation. Enjoy!
Here at Dolphin Connection, we love dolphins. Chances are that since you’re reading this blog, you do too, and it might even be safe to assume that dolphins aren’t the only animals who hold a special place in your heart. We hope so, because today we want to step outside of our typical area of focus to talk about another intelligent, large, social, gray mammal: elephants.
Recently, several members of the Dolphin Connection team had the opportunity to attend an international conference for people who work with animals of all kinds. Because of the broad subject matter, we found ourselves learning not just about dolphins and other marine mammals, but also about land animals of the furry, feathery, and scaly variety. The conference commenced with a keynote speaker from the Wildlife Conservation Society who told us of the plight of the African elephant and of the 96 Elephants campaign whose aim is to unite people around the world to protect these amazing animals from extinction.
African elephants are an iconic species, known for their size, their trunks, and of course their tusks. These tusks, found on both the males and females of the species, are made of ivory, and while crucial for their survival, they are also integral to their demise. Although the commercial trade of ivory has been illegal since 1989, illegal poaching continues at a pace that threatens the elephants’ future survival: 35,000 elephants per year, 96 elephants per day. At this rate, we will lose the African forest elephant in 10 years and the East African savanna elephant soon after.
“If we do not act, we will have to shamefully admit to our children that we stood by as elephants were driven out of existence.” – WCS Conservationists
Rather than individual subsistence hunters with homemade weapons of yesteryear, poachers nowadays are high tech militants with automatic weapons, night vision goggles, GPS equipment and even helicopters. If they sound like professional criminals, they are. In fact the black market for ivory helps to fund many notorious terrorist groups.
So who can stop the killing? You can! Crushing the demand for ivory crushes the reward for the poachers. Increasing awareness of the issue increases the size of, and the support for, the army fighting for elephants’ survival.
Are you politically inclined? Click here to learn more about the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s efforts to ban the commercial ivory trade and here to ensure that the controls on trade of elephant ivory stand strong.
Are you active on social media? Click here to take an #elphie and share it with the world! The more people who know, the more people who care!
Ninety-six elephants a day. Every day. Today. Tomorrow. And on, until our army of animal lovers becomes bigger and stronger than the army of poachers fueled by a black market demand for ivory by people who are unaware or unaffected by the possibility that we may soon live in a world without African elephants.
As always, we were so happy to return to our island paradise in the Florida Keys after this amazing conference, and while we are grateful for the healthy conservation status of bottlenose dolphins in the wild, it is imperative that we – and you – never forget how many other animals around the globe need our help, every day.
Photo Credit: Julie Larsen/Wildlife Conservation Society