Three Truths the Manatees Can Teach Us
by Dale Reeves
Last week my wife and I got to spend some time with my two siblings and their spouses in Florida. One of the places several of us visited was Blue Spring State Park located in Orange City. It is a very nice state park consisting of 2,643 acres with two lagoons, a spring, and a north-flowing river that discharges over 102 million gallons of water daily into the St. Johns River. More than 150 bird species have been identified in the park, including eagles and kingfishers. As you walk along the boardwalk shaded by a hardwood hammock, you also can observe swimming turtles and the flashing scales of gar and sunfish.
But most people come here in the winter for one thing—to observe the spectacle of seeing almost 300 manatees gathered in the 72-degree bluish-green waters. The day we were there the rangers had counted 239 of these “gentle giants.” We’ve been to the Cincinnati Zoo many times to enjoy watching a few of these interesting mammals frolic about—but had never seen anything quite like the amount of these baby Hueys gathered together in one place having church.
Hardwired by God
What is it that draws this amount of manatees to congregate in this spot every winter? Manatees can be found in many of Florida’s waterways including rivers, bays, canals, and the ocean, but they need warm water in order to survive. They cannot endure temperatures below 66 degrees Fahrenheit for extended periods of time because they do not have as much internal fat to keep them warm like the blubber on whales. The year-round warm water at Blue Spring makes it a safe place for this species to spend the winter—much like retired snowbirds who head south to escape the cold up north. And because the West Indian Manatee is an endangered species, they must be treated with respect. So, in case you are wondering, no, I did not get to swim with these gentle giants. It is not permitted.
These large aquatic mammals are typically 9-10 feet in length from snout to tail and weigh around 1,000 pounds. However, they may grow to over 13 feet and weigh more than 3,500 pounds. As we watched them glide down the river—fully-grown adults, babies, male and female, some of them swimming solo and others en masse—I wondered, How do they know to come here year after year?
I decided to ask Google that question and this is the response I got:
“Scientists don’t know what cues manatees follow, but they seem to know when cold weather is coming and seek warm water areas. Travel corridors, or passageways, are necessary for manatees to move back and forth between summer and winter habitats or between feeding and resting or calving areas.”
I think I have a better answer than Google: God designed them that way, and he put this knowledge in their DNA when he created them. When God created them on the fifth day of creation, he knew they would need to migrate like this every year in order to survive, just as he designed the wildebeest herds to follow the rains around the Serengeti, the caribou in Canada and Alaska who travel around 1600 miles every year in search of food, and the artic terns who journey from the North Pole to the South Pole.
Observe Their Ways
Isn’t it amazing how God has hardwired the animals in his zoo to do certain things automatically? How he knew these kinds of things about each species as he was fashioning them on the fifth and sixth days of creation is absolutely mind-blowing to me. Did you know the Bible actually gives us several lessons we should learn from the animal kingdom? For instance . . .
Ants are small but they store up their food all summer.
Rock badgers aren’t powerful, but they know how to build homes for protection.
Locusts have no king, but they march in formation.
Lizards are easy to catch, but they can be found even in places.
When God gave Moses instructions concerning how his tabernacle where he would meet his people was to be designed, he directed him to use the skins of “sea cows” for the outer covering (see Exodus 26:14; 36:19) so that the tabernacle would be protected from the harsh elements of the weather. Most scholars believe these sea cows mentioned were either manatees or dugongs.
So, what lessons can we learn from the manatees today?
- Congregate or Die
In order for the manatees to survive in the winter, they huddle together and move about because enough of them know where they need to go to stay alive. While we observed these marine mammals last week we noticed several babies surrounded by fully grown manatees looking out for them. We also observed several trendsetters that seemed to be farther down the river than the others, as if they were clearing the way for the others to come and have church together. The church today needs to know these truths for spiritual survival as well.
- Listen to the Inner Voice
Just as God has hardwired these animals to know when it is time to migrate, he also has created his people with a sensitivity to hearing clear direction from him for guidance. If we will spend time with him in prayer and in the reading of his Word, I am convinced we will hear his gentle still small voice speaking truth to us in the midst of many conflicting voices. His sheep know him and they know his voice. May we seek to follow his voice above all others today.
- Trust God
Jesus told us to look at the birds of the air and realize that God cares for us as he does for his feathered friends. If you are anxious or worried about the events unfolding in our country, if you are fearful about 2021 and beyond, look at the manatees who are floating in a “no worry zone.” When the signs of winter first appear, I don’t imagine the manatees start wringing their flippers, asking, “Now what are we going to do?” No, they know exactly what to do.
In the words of King Solomon, “observe their ways and be wise.”