I had an important debate with the five year old daughter of my host.

“I want to bring a manatee home with me.”

“No. You can’t.”

“Why not?”

“They won’t let you.”

“But I want one as a pet!”

“They won’t let you take one home.”

“I’ll check it as baggage. The TSA will scan it and then US Airways will load it on the plane. And maybe they won’t lose it like they did my bag coming here.”

“They won’t let you take a manatee on the plane.”

“How about a female one? A womanatee?”

Sayre groaned. “Couldn’t you have left the puns in Pennsylvania Neil?”

The conversation, and the pun, was prompted by my visit to Blue Spring State Park. One of Florida’s largest springs, Blue Spring is an important feeder of the St. John’s River, and by keeping the river water warm it serves as a wintering ground for the Florida Manatee.

I’d heard of these odd creatures, often called the Sea Cow. I knew they were endangered. But I had no idea endangered animals such as these were so easily seen. There were dozens of them slowly swimming around.

Oh the huge manatee!

A common feature in Florida parks is a boardwalk, and in the case of Blue Spring the wooden and metal walkways are a mile long. The pathway along the shore took me, Sayre, and his daughter through the Florida ‘hammock’ forest to the headwaters of the spring, and gave us great views of the gentle sea cows in the crystalline green water.

Sayre pointed out different varieties of fish and corrected me when I suggested the fish seemed brave to be around such large carnivores. The manatee are herbivores, and feed on bottom vegetation. They are threats to no one, and the only reason they are endangered is that a higher order of mammal keeps hitting them with boat propellers.

Blue Springs features a campground, swimming in the spring when the manatee aren’t present, boating, and hiking. But the manatee are the main draw for the park, and even in late afternoon on a Tuesday in January attendance was high on the boardwalk and the observation platforms. And I was pleased to see Sayre’s daughter wasn’t the only young person fascinated by the sea cows. Sayre is a great father for teaching his child about the wonders of the natural world, but he wasn’t the only involved parent at Blue Spring that afternoon. And if they looked closely across the water, they saw a mirror of the parent-child relationship in a different species.

Sea cow and calves