Every winter hundreds of West Indian manatees make the canal in front of the Tampa TECO Big Bend Power Station their home. The warm water discharge helps protect the thin-layered subtropical creature from freezing to death. In fact, they need water to be 68 degrees Fahrenheit or higher to survive.
The Tampa Electric’s Manatee Viewing Center is always clamoring with children and snowbirds like me. Today, it appeared that most of the endangered species had already migrated out to the ocean.
From the tidal walk, I spotted a few fins and snouts in the distance but not like the usual hundreds that collect here in January and December.
A stingray swam under the viewing platform next to the mangroves and a show of several mullet (fish) rocketing out of the water kept me entertained. But, no manatee.
I turned my camera off.
Then, and only then (of course), only 6 feet from my lens, a gigantic gentle giant surfaced and let out a blowing exhalation of air.
I scrambled for the shot. This is the only photo I captured before he lurked back into the murky abyss.
The Manatee Viewing Center celebrates their 25th anniversary year this year. If you’re in Florida during a cold-snap, do visit.