Manatees or the sea cows are the most famous inhabitants of the Nature Coast. The ancient manatee used to confuse sailors into believing that they had sighted a mermaid. The sailors had obviously drunk a lot of rum, as the sea cow, with its burlap-like skin and up to 3,000-pund un-girlish figure, more closely resembles the elephant. Let me give you a few details: manatees are large, gray-brown aquatic mammals with bodies that taper to a flat, paddle- shaped tail. They have two flippers with three to four nails on each, and their head and face are wrinkled with whiskers on the snout. Any questions about resemblance to mermaid? Manatees can be found in shallow, slow-moving rivers, estuaries, saltwater bays, canals and coastal areas. Manatees are a migratory species. Within the United States, manatees are concentrated in Florida in the winter, but can be found in summer months as far west as Alabama and as far north as Virginia and the Carolinas. Manatees are gentle and slow-moving. Most of their time is spent eating, resting, and in travel. Manatees are completely herbivorous. Manatees have no natural enemies, and it is believed they can live 60 years or more.
Fondest memory: High tourist season in the area is January - March when you can see the visiting manatees - they come to winter here in warm pockets of water created by natural springs. You can even dive to see manatees in Crystal River Manatee Dive tour. But you can find the live mermaids too (no drinking necessary) - at the Weeki Wachee Springs Waterpark.
My first visit to Weeki Wachee was in 1958 with my parents. We also went to Cypress Gardens and Silver Springs on that trip. Famous people who have visited the park include Elvis, Arthur Godfrey and Deborah "Gidget" Walley. I remember Arthur Godfrey talking about the mermaids on his radio show.
Another visitor was Don Knotts who played the Incredible Mr. Limpet. The Premier was shown at Weeki Wachee Springs, Florida. This was, reportedly, the first (and probably still the only) under water premier.
Nine years after my first visit, when my husband and I took our two children to Weeki Wachee in 1967, it was during the heyday of the mermaid shows. These pictures were all taken in 1967.
Fondest memory: The shows in those days had a theme - the mermaids presented musical shows where they lip synced to the music. The show when we went was the Wizard of Oz. If I had to pick a show to see, an Oz show would have been what I would have picked - I read all the Oz books as a child and have copies of all of them now.
Judging by the pictures, another difference between 1967 and 2006 was that the mermaids did Ester Williams type routines. "Water Ballet" (now an Olympic sport as synchronized swimming) became popular when Esther Williams performed in a string of MGM "aqua musicals" in the 1940s and '50s. I used to try to do the ballet leg type of routine at the beach when we vacationed at the shore.
I don't remember doing the River Cruise when we visited Weeki Wachee before. But this is definitely a worthwhile attraction to see. The cruise goes by electric boat up the river and then at the end of the cruise, the boat goes by this platform.
When the cruise gets to this point, there was a great blue heron on the platform (last photo), and the wood storks and pelicans were foraging around as they normally do. The wood storks feel around in the bottom and snap their bills on any fish they find (second photo).
I don't know if there would be the same number of these birds here in the summer. They come to Florida in the winter to breed. In north Florida the Wood Stork is more numerous in summer than in winter, indicating a fall migration to South Florida. Spring migration occurs during March and April.
Fondest memory: When the captain starts throwing fish out, the pelicans and wood storks rush the platform and the boat, and the blue heron (top photo) leaves in disgust.
It is cool to see the wood storks up close like that (although if any bird can be called ugly, the wood stork would certainly qualify). The wood stork is the only stork native to North America.