FREEPORT — While on his way to work at 6:20 a.m. Wednesday, Daniel Lickers looked over the north end of the U.S. Highway 331 bridge into Choctawhatchee Bay and saw something he'd never seen before.
"I first thought it was dolphins jumping," Lickers said.
Those dolphins turned out to be about 20 manatees gathered in one spot in the bay.
"I just couldn't believe it," he said.
According to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokeswoman Rebekah Nelson, an FWC officer responded with Walton County sheriff's deputies to a call about the manatees.
Nelson said a gathering of that many manatees typically means that it is a mating herd. Manatee mating herds are commonly found in shallow, near-shore water during the spring and summer.
The FWC encourages bystanders to keep their distance because getting too close can end in injury.
Lickers called a nearby friend, Bill Fletcher, to come see the group.
"It was just quite a sight," Fletcher said.
Fletcher and Lickers said it looked like one of the manatees was either stuck, beached or dead.
But Lickers said a sheriff's deputy assured him the manatees were fine, and it was typical behavior for the mating herd.
If a manatee does appear to be injured or stranded, the best option is to call the FWC Wildlife Alert at 888-404-3922 and press “7” to speak with an operator.
Lickers said it's not often someone gets to view such a "treat by nature."
"Makes you appreciate living down here in Walton County," he said.