My mother and nephew were visiting us for a week’s vacation in February and friends of ours wanted to show them a very unique Florida experience. They suggested swimming with the manatees. My nephew was quite excited about it especially since he was not really sure what a manatee looked like. I knew he was in for a terrific surprise.
Manatees, also called sea cows, are very large vegetarian mammals. On average, they grow to about 9-10 feet long and 900-1200 pounds.
The planning was easy. Execution was another story. We reserved space on the first boat of the morning. That meant we had to get to Crystal River by 7am which was a 2 hour drive from St. Petersburg. Getting everyone up at 4am to get ready was the worst part of the day but once everyone was up, showered, fed and all the adults had at least one cup of coffee things went smoothly.
We arrived at the dive shop by 6:30am where we were fitted for wet suits, snorkel, mask and fins. The wet suit was necessary. In February the morning air can be cool and the river is spring fed with water temperatures averaging about 72 degrees Fahrenheit. We sat through a safety video warning us to allow the manatees to approach us rather than chasing after them.
We all boarded the boat with lots of excitement. We motored out a short distance and saw a group of manatees. The captain anchored the boat and within minutes we were in the water. We all behaved ourselves and waited for the manatees to approach us and in no time they did.
As I mentioned, they are very large animals and it is remarkable how graceful they look in the water. One manatee approached and rolled over so that we could scratch its belly and touch its skin. Their skin has a slimy fuzzy feel. Then we noticed a mama manatee with a baby nearby. We kept our distance and watched as the baby swam around its mama. The baby was very confident in close proximity to its mama and showed off for us by flipping and turning as it circled around her.
Some people rolled in the water to see if they could entice some of the other adult manatees to do the same thing but I didn’t notice any mimics. The manatees seemed to be comfortable swimming with humans as they swam close by and lingered for awhile. The tour team had a large video camera inside a waterproof casing. They filmed the entire dive and made the tape available for purchase after the trip.
Once back at the dive shop, we changed from wet suits to dry clothes and headed off for a good old southern breakfast where we relived our encounters with the manatees.
It was a wonderful experience for us and we got such a kick out of watching my nephew negotiating the waters in his first snorkeling trip. By the time we returned to St. Pete, he was very satisfied with himself but sound asleep in the back seat of the car.
Photos courtesy of Free Public Domain Photo Database and Public Domain Clip Art