Before I get ahead of myself, let me explain. In Florida, we have these slow-moving, cow like sea creatures called Manatees. They're cute in an ugly sort of way. Anyhow, when it gets colder out, they like to travel upstream or to just about anywhere warm. As it turns out, a local power plant happens to make the water around itself pretty warm while cooling its systems - about 80 degrees F, which is upwards of 10 to 30 degrees warmer than the bay water temperature during the colder months of the year. So, enjoying the free warmth, the manatees congregate in the waters around this plant. Some smart people at the plant figured this out, and set up a nice overlook so people could come and appreciate the spectacle. And, by chance, Barry and I happened to find this little overlook while driving back from dropping some of his family off at the Tampa Airport:
See all the brownish bumps in the water? Those are manatees. There were upwards of 50!
But that is not what is so much cooler than the previous posts.
Also included in this little lookout is a path and a pier that you can go look out from. As I sat failing to catch a close-up shot of a manatee as it surfaced nearby (a truly futile effort), Barry was staring at the oyster bed and its associated fish, etc that happened to have grown adjacent to this pier. Then, he saw something else. This, to be precise:
For those not familiar with their ray species, it's a spotted eagle ray. They're magnificent creatures. As a volunteer at the Florida Aquarium, I got to feed the rays in the Bays and Beaches exhibit, including some spotted eagle rays. Their noses are incredibly soft: they feel like little puppies gently taking food from your hands. I'll remember that feeling for the rest of my life. Seeing one in the wild was AWESOME. We actually saw two different ones - it was amazing. The pier also hosted a variety of fish and other organisms, like crabs and other little invertebrates.
As cool as the manatees were, the spotted eagle rays were so much cooler. I had a strong urge to climb down and try to get an underwater shot - which, in retrospect, probably would have been a bad idea, so I'm glad I stuck to the pier. They do have a nice, poisonous barb that would let me know if I got too close. They're just so beautiful and graceful! I felt truly lucky to see one so close up and in its natural habitat.
OK, I think that's all for enjoying Florida... for now. I do go to Casperson Beach this weekend, though... If I get a big shark's tooth, I don't know if I'll be able to resist posting about it!