157. Unlikely Wildlife

Unlikely Wildlife: Back in Tampa, the day before we started driving north to Georgia, we went looking for Manatees. Near extinction in the 1980s at the hands of careless, speeding boaters, the lovably ugly sea cow has been staging a comeback thanks to Florida’s aggressive education and enforcement campaigns. It’s easier to see wild manatees now than when I was a kid and, ironically, one of the best places to go is Tampa Electric Company’s coal power plant in Apollo Beach. We were in Florida for a month, seeing “don’t harm the manatee” signs everywhere, so Amy desperately wanted to see some fellow vegetarian mammals in action. So we went.

And we saw. A couple. In the winter, the manatees prefer the warm waters surrounding the power plant, a result of the outflow of “clean” and hot wastewater into the bay. It’s a bizarre setting to view endangered wildlife, to say the least, but we did manage to spot a few flippers and snouts lolling about in the bathwater. If you’ve never seen a manatee, they’re a kind of mish-mash of about five different marine mammals, a postcard of evolutionary theory. As a result, it’s very difficult to describe what one looks like. Amy’s having this problem often in Georgia, because she bought a button for her sweatshirt that says “I Heart Manatees.” The truck stop cashiers have lots of questions.

Cashier: Now, what is a man-atee? What is that?
Amy: It’s uh, a big mammal. It’s like a whale, but it’s not a whale.
Cashier: Oh. I don’t think I’d like a manatee. They’re too big, I wouldn’t like that.
Amy: Well, they’re also called the sea cow.
Cashier: Oh no, no, I don’t think I’d like those at all.
Other Cashier: So what, do you work with these things or somethin’?
Amy: No, I just saw some in Florida.
Cashier: Oh. Well you have a good day now.


  1. Grace says:

    They are such gentle creatures. We have a large population that stop out where I’m at on the Atlantic coast of Florida. They hang out near our nuclear power plant.