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Mixing with manatees

When it gets cold this time of year, manatees gather in the constant 72-degree waters of Three Sisters Spring in the Crystal River to keep warm on cold mornings. And humans gather too, from all over, for the chance to interact with them. It's the only place in the United States where people may legally swim with and touch the endangered sea mammals. Despite unseasonable warmth, manatee deaths in January jumped by a third statewide compared with the same month last year, wildlife officials said. Of the 48 known deaths, eight were from collisions with watercraft.

Amid the golden light of early morning and vapor from the relatively warm spring-fed waters, David Tobin adjusts his mask Wednesday at the mouth of a canal leading to Three Sisters Spring. He came to the Crystal River area from Georgia to snorkel with manatees.

Steve Dohring of Largo was part of a snorkel tour by Bird's Underwater Dive Shop on Wednesday. While photographing manatees, he took a few minutes to scratch and play with a young one demanding his attention at the mouth of Three Sisters Springs. Tours start arriving at the spring shortly after 7 a.m.

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