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Horde of Manatees Escapes to Warmer Waters at Florida Wildlife Refuge

As tides began to rise on Monday, Feb. 2, Three Sister's Springs at Florida's Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge began to get crowded.

In with the tide came more than 300 giant manatees, a protected and declining species in Florida's waters.

The creatures seek out warmer waters during the wintertime and often arrive at the springs in high numbers on chillier days and nights.

Though the refuge is designed to be a winter sanctuary for the animals, the numbers arriving on Monday were much higher than usual, forcing the temporary closure of the springs to swimmers and kayakers until Tuesday.

An aerial survey conducted at the end of January counted a record number of the species in the area.

During low tide, a total of 797 manatees were counted in the Citrus County area, beating the previous record of 657 in 2012.

"I expected a record number, but not 140 more than the previous record...," Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge Biologist Joyce Kleen said.