05/19/2011 08:58 am ET | Updated Jul 19, 2011

Manatees: 'One Of Nature's Most Placid Species' (PHOTOS)

The conservation status of the Florida manatee remains a controversy as researchers investigate what historical numbers might have been in comparison to current day estimates. All the while, man continues to encroach on the manatee's native habitat, forcing a co-existence between humans and manatees.

As part of his project "Man and Manatee," iLCP photographer Neil Ever Osborne worked to capture aerial images of Gulf Coast areas where manatees cluster in winter months. During the colder weather, manatees seek out warmer water to sustain them. These areas can range from protected tepid waters near natural springs, to shallow waters near power plants where warm discharge water attracts the gentle animals.

A flight donated by LightHawk helped Neil create a current day assessment of this charismatic species and the challenges it faces living in close proximity to heavily populated areas. This partnership between iLCP photographers and LightHawk developed into an initiative called Tripods in the Sky.

Images and captions courtesy of iLCP (story continues below).

Manatees (by International League Of Conservation Photographers)

Read a conversation with Volunteer Pilot Bruce McGregor.

Dispatch from the Field by Neil Ever Osborne:

"Within the congregation, I count more than 20 sedentary animals. Plump bodies of gray mass clustered together, limbs touching perhaps for the sake of warmth. Only gentle gestures among the idle creatures suggest a common interest: conserve energy. At the Three Sister's Springs near Crystal River in Citrus County, Florida, water temperatures remains a consistent 72F (22C). Here the Florida manatee, a subspecies of the West Indian manatee, finds a well-known wintering haven in the tepid waters of the natural spring. Fiction will tell us in Homer's Odyssey, Sirens were half-woman, half-bird creatures, later to be confused as mermaids by other authors. As nomenclature stuck in books, science named the Order Sirenia after the tale that suggested manatees where once living mermaids. The 3 extant species of manatee and their close relative, the dugong, now belong in this grouping. At Crystal River in the cold season, the tourists are there by the dozens on any given day. At an arm's reach away, omnipresent humans encounter one of nature's most placid species. Some of the inquisitive animals do not mind. Some of the overzealous tourists get too close. Man and manatee co-exist here and the tale has the promise of success, pending sound conservation decisions and a decrease in the threats that continue to reduce manatee numbers around the state of Florida."

Contact Dr. Caryn Self-Sullivan at ( to support manatee conservation.