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Howie is fearless and gives the impression that he likes having his picture taken. In fact, manatee researchers have noted that Howie will often nudge other manatees out of the way when a camera is present.
Howie is one of the most popular manatees at Blue Spring State Park. He has been returning to the park’s warm spring waters every winter since he was first identified in 1971. A social manatee, he seems to be fearless and has developed a reputation for being playful and a bit of a prankster.
Howie looks pretty innocent as he snoozes in the Blue Spring run, but Howie the manatee has developed a reputation for playful behavior.
Photo © Walker Stanberry
Like most manatees living in the wild, Howie can be identified by his scars,
which are mostly located on his paddle-shaped tail. He is a favorite of
Wayne Hartley, Save the Manatee Club's Manatee Specialist, who tracks his
return to Blue Spring each winter. Howie is usually one of the first
manatees to show up for the season and is often one of the last to go. He
also seems to be socially inclined. When visiting the spring, he likes to
hang out with “the guys” and is frequently spotted in the company of Floyd,
Brutus, Philip, Nick, or Robin.
Howie is fearless and gives the impression that he likes having his picture taken. In fact, manatee researchers have noted that Howie will often nudge other manatees out of the way when a camera is present. He is famous for appearing in an issue of National Geographic. In the magazine, Howie is taking biologist (and Save the Manatee Club Executive Director) Patrick Rose for an impromptu underwater barrel roll.
Howie has also earned his reputation for playing pranks. His most notorious incident involved some researchers and a canoe. “It was Sunday, and Tom O’Shea from the USGS Sirenia Project and I were going out for a count,” said Wayne Hartley, who was a Blue Spring ranger at the time, under the auspices of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. “Someone handed me one of the state’s cameras to put up later, so I took it along, making three cameras in the canoe. I was in all my glory -- tie and straw ranger hat. In front of the platform crowded with visitors, Tom pointed out Howie approaching, but as it was Howie we thought nothing of it. However, Howie was playing with other manatees and hadn’t noticed us. When he bumped our canoe, it startled him, and he lunged forward. Just as Tom and I congratulated ourselves on surviving the lunge, Howie’s tail hit the canoe as he fled. We tumbled out, and the cameras were left in a foot of water in the canoe. Tom and I swam the canoe to shallow water with what seemed like hundreds of photos being taken, and we made a column in the Daytona Beach News Journal under the heading ‘Manatee Takes Revenge!’ For a long time after that, as soon as Howie knew the canoe was about, he would lead a howling charge out of the run. Fortunately, many manatees would realize the alarm call was about the canoe and lay back down. But it made my manatee counts more difficult! Now when I'm in the run taking photos or measurements and I look up and see Howie has just come in and is looking at me, my thought is: Go on Howie, up the run. PLEASE ignore me!"
Researchers use the scars on Howie's paddle-shaped tail to help idenfity him. This photo was taken in February 2014.
© Wayne Hartley, Save the Manatee Club
Another story about Howie involves the swim area at Blue Spring. Although
the park is now closed to swimming during manatee season, it used to be open
in the winter with the stipulation that swimmers had to leave if a manatee
was present. Well, Howie liked spending time in the swim area. He developed
the habit of coming into the swim area during the day and getting all the
swimmers kicked out as a result! Now that swimming is not allowed in the
winter months, Howie can come and go as he pleases without causing headaches
for the park rangers.
In the last few years, Howie has been following his usual pattern of coming in early for the season. In 2012, his first visit was on Halloween, and he showed up on a chilly day after Thanksgiving in 2013 when the air temperature was down in the 30s. Howie made 16 visits during the 2012 – 2013 season and 18 visits last year. He hung out with his usual gang and departed for the season in March in both years.
An interesting incident of note involved Howie and a mating herd last summer. On August 27, 2013, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s East Coast Recovery Team (FWC) got a report of a ditch full of manatees behind the Central Florida Regional Hospital in Sanford, Florida. The hospital is located on the banks of Lake Monroe, a waterway that is connected to the St. Johns River. “The FWC wanted to find out what was going on and make sure the manatees could get out,” said Wayne. “All was okay, and the manatees did finally leave and return to Lake Monroe. It appeared that 10 male manatees had pursued a young lovely named Pine into the ditch. I saw pictures and ID’d Brutus, Philip, Paddy Doyle, Turtle, Homer II, Jethro, and Howie, in addition to Pine.”
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