For the second year in a row, manatees in Florida avoided cold February waters by invading the Three Sisters Springs in Citrus County, Florida, flooding the tourist destination with a herd 300 manatees strong.
The springs have been closed off to swimmers, although you can still walk the boardwalk at Three Sisters and peer down at the immense flock of floating fatties.
The manatee population in King's Bay (the larger body of water connected to the Springs) has about 100 full-time residents, according to the county tourist board, but the population swells to 1000 in the winter as they take advantage of the warm water. Dense herds of hundreds of animals, which is what's happening now, are more rare.
Although manatees are extremely gentle and generally friendly to humans, there is the fear that when they're so closely packed together an accidental injury might occur. They're heavy and they need to breathe air, so in tight quarters a group of startled manatees might accidentally hurt a person with their weight or prevent a manatee at the bottom of the herd from surfacing. Currently, many manatees rely on wastewater from electrical power plants for their warmth in winter—but in the wake of the Fukushima disaster in Japan, coastal power plants are increasingly shutting down, making springs like this more important.