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Friday, April 24, 2015

In Florida, should the manatees swim alone?

Published 4/23/2015
For animal softies, the swimming-with-the-manatees program in Crystal River, Fla., is an irresistible opportunity to observe and commune with the endangered marine mammals in their natural habitat. Between November and April, more than 700 manatees leave the chilly Gulf of Mexico for the balmy waters of the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, a 177-acre jigsaw puzzle of springs and sanctuaries in Kings Bay, an hour and a half north of Tampa. The temperature in the springs holds steady at 72 degrees, just right for the cold-averse critters.

Lars Andersen founded his eco-tour company, Adventure Outpost, in 1997. Three years later, he cut manatee swims from his programming to protest acts of harassment he had witnessed in the water. In January, he discontinued kayak tours in Three Sisters because of the swelling crowds. And last month, he joined an intent-to-sue filed by the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a nonprofit with a history of fighting for stronger manatee protections. The group claims that Fish and Wildlife is violating the Endangered Species Act by failing to safeguard the manatees in the refuge. It also wags a reproachful finger at the swimming outings.
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