CRYSTAL RIVER — A record 641 manatees were counted along the Nature Coast last week, crushing previous marks in the Citrus County manatee population.
The total was above 100 more than last year's county record and 150 more than the record number ever seen in Kings Bay, the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge reported Monday.
The lengthy cold snap plus clear viewing conditions are thought to be responsible for the record numbers. The count on Jan. 13 was part of the statewide synoptic manatee survey. The results of that survey are expected to be released next week and will show the numbers of manatees that have gathered at other warm-water spots around the state.
The numbers for the Nature Coast leg were 556 manatees in Kings Bay including 91 calves and 76 manatees in the Homosassa Blue Waters including eight calves. Four manatees were spotted in the Weeki Wachee River, three in the discharge canal at the Progress Energy complex and one each in the lower Homosassa and Chassahowitzka rivers.
The record cold and huddling manatees forced federal and state officials to issue pleas to boaters and swimmers to stay away from the warm springs where manatees gather and especially the crowded Three Sisters Springs off Kings Bay.