On a crisp cool morning in Crystal River...Rick Christy and his wife Betty Jean look down from a bridge in search of manatees. The mammals travel up the river from the gulf to seek protection from the cold weather. But the manatees are not the only migrating mammals to the springs.
Boat charters, kayakers and swimmers follow the manatees to the springs to get an up close look. Sometimes too close.
Christy points out that "everyone of these manatees..pretty much everyone of them got propeller marks on them."
He added that more needs to be done to protect the manatees from injury.
"I sure would give anything if they wouldn't allow to use propellers on the boats it's just depressing when you see a boat come in here with a propeller on it."
You might think those boat strikes would be the leading cause of death for the manatees...but it is actually another human caused reason.
Ivan Vicente works for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He says, "the number one challenge the manatees are facing today....it is not them getting hit by boats...it's the lack of wintering habitat."
And that is why hundreds of the marine mammals gather here at Three Sisters Springs.
Roped off sanctuaries are found throughout the river. They are there to provide a place for the manatees to rest without being disturbed by boaters and swimmers.
Vicente says the mammals leave the sanctuary for food or if the water temperatures warms up.
"People need to understand that when manatees are not in the sanctuary it is not because they are outside the sanctuary to entertain people and that they are not looking for a moment of affection."
If you do get in the water with the manatees, do not chase them, do not swim over top of them or block their direction of travel and do not rub or scratch them. But do stay still and observe them. They will come to you if you are patient.