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Water-Related News

Manatees spotted at Myakka River State Park

Myakka River State Park draws tourists from all over the world to ogle alligators sunning on its riverbanks. But now, visitors peering down into the coffee-colored waters can sometimes get a bonus, a glimpse of manatees that have ventured farther inland than anyone expected.

In recent years, when summer rains lift the river's level, the gradual erosion of water management structures built in the 1930s and '40s has allowed manatees to slip north, into Upper Myakka Lake and beyond. One sighting has occurred as far up as County Road 780 in Manatee County, says Chris Oliver, an environmental specialist for the Myakka Wild and Scenic River Program.

The first recorded human-manatee encounter inside the park was in October 2008, when a park regular reported bumping into one with his boat. This was likely considered a fluke. Then in 2012, more of the mammals were seen. After Oliver began making wildlife surveys in 2013 and dipped into the files, he started asking people to keep their eyes open. Soon the photographic evidence mounted, and this month there were verified manatee gatherings -- called "aggregations" -- of five and six animals on consecutive days.