Magnificent photos of manatees from the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge

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Take an armchair swim with us to a Florida reserve created specifically to protect endangered West Indian manatees.

For Manatee Appreciation Day I took a look at the TreeHugger archives to see what we had on these gentle giants, and it was nothing but bad news. Manatee deaths by boat collision and cold weather and toxic algae blooms and worst of all, stupid homo sapienstrying to ride the poor things. (What is wrong with us? I ask this often.)

But it's Manatee Appreciation Day, not Manatee Depression Day, so with that in mind I went to the best place for a manatee pick-me-up, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) flickr site for endangered species, where they have a beautiful set of images from the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge.

The watery reserve was established in 1983 specifically for the protection of the endangered West Indian manatee, and is singular in that it preserves the last unspoiled and undeveloped habitat in Kings Bay, which forms the headwaters of the Crystal River. The refuge preserves the warm water spring havens, which provide critical habitat for the manatee populations that migrate here each winter, notes the USFWS.

During colder weather manatees prefer to sleep in shallow water for the warmth of the sun. The manatee pictured above is pushing off with his flippers – while sleeping! – to breathe before descending back to the bottom again, where he can remain for 15 minutes before needing another breath.