VOLUSIA COUNTY, Fla. — A lifetime dedicated to manatees. That is what Wayne Hartley has achieved as manatee specialist and principal investigator for the Save the Manatee Club

What You Need To Know

At 80 years old, he’s spent over half his life collecting data on them, answering questions and creating invaluable insight on how to protect them.

“Oh, that is Flo," said Hartley, pointing to a manatee gliding up to his canoe. "Blue Springs 755.”

The manatees are family to Hartley.  He greets hundreds of them daily like old friends.

“Generally, the first 300 numbers I know, and after that, you get little blocks of numbers like 710 to 721 I know,” he said.

These are relationships forged over years, from old to new. 

“I know I joke keeping track of calves at Blue Spring is like herding cats,” Hartley said. 

Hartley has spent four decades paddling the calm, cool waters of Blue Spring State Park. 

“You know, 44 years now, that is over half my life," Hartley said. "That is amazing. When you start, you don't even think about it being like that.”

Every day, Hartley counts the manatees. He tells them apart using hand drawn sketches of their scars.

“What we are doing is recording their names,” he said. 

He tells them apart using sketches of their scars, but he often doesn’t even need it, especially having named many of them himself. 

“All that information is scratched in my terrible handwriting in that book,” Hartley said. 

He keeps meticulous records of who and what he sees. 

“I keep track of how many we saw. I report how many calves we have. I report the number of animals that were hit," Hartley said. "They told me that this is the only place where such a record is kept.”

That information has become his life’s work — with more manatees added to his list every year. 

“I keep saying, 'Well, wouldn't it be nice if I had a chart of that, a file.' So I make up these files?" Hartley said. "Then I've got to maintain them every year, and it's gone from 36 animals from 800 and something. It's gotten (to be) a lot bigger job than it used to be."

His years of notes have helped establish the longest body of manatee genealogy research in the world, according to the Save the Manatee Club.

“We have genealogies to seven generations now," Hartley said. "We have lists of calves. I call it mothers and calves, and it's every animal that we've seen here that was pregnant or had a calf.”

His research has helped answer questions like if manatees return to the same area every winter and their reproductive habits. 

“You need to know what the animals need, how the animals live in order to see to that they survive, that they have what they need to live,” Hartley said. 

His personal relationships with individual manatees were also the basis of The Save the Manatee Club’s Adopt-A-Manatee program, which has boosted their popularity and gained the mammals public support. 

“We have thousands of people coming in every day to see the manatees," Hartley said. "The busy season is the manatee season.”

While Hartley is proud that this is his legacy, his passion is making sure it drives home a greater message. 

"If you protect the manatees in a place like this, it will help them increase (their numbers),” Hartley said.

It's a pursuit he doesn't plan on giving up anytime soon. 

"As long as I can turn the canoe over, I’ll stay," Hartley said. "If the manatees will, and it sure looks like they will.”