The Manatees of Crystal River, FL

March 13, 2012 at 5:16 am | Posted in Endangered Encounters, For the Family, The Wild Side | 2 Comments
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Back in October, I went with two of my friends to Homosassa Springs to experience what I had read about so many times – swimming with manatees. It’s one of those things I’ve always wanted to do and after reading an article online about the experience someone had in the water with them I decided “Enough is enough, I’m doing this!” After searching online, emailing several companies that offered this service, and reading dozens of reviews on TripAdvisor, I volunteered two of my friends to join me and we made reservations with River Ventures.

We had decided on taking the early tour. Sure, there was some moaning and groaning (and a few choice words) when we woke up at 3AM to leave Orlando, and it was a chilly 38* outside (we live in Florida, yes, that is chilly!) but once the coffee hit our bodies and minds we were ready to be on our way! We arrived at 6AM to a wonderful, pleasant staff who made the early hour much more tolerable… of course the complimentary pastries and hot chocolate helped. There were only 6 people total in our group this morning. After a short vidoe about minding your manners while around manatees, we jumped into our wet suits and piled into the van that brings you to the docks. The air was colder than the constant 72* water of the springs with steam rolling across the top of it. Our guide, Captain Glenn, got our blood pumping with his humorous stories and interesting facts as he pointed out “manatee footprints”. It wasn’t long before we found ourselves gently (so as not to disturb the manatees) slipping into the water with “mermaids”.

Manatees were all over! Thanks to the early hour, there was only one other tour boat out with us, and that boat had very little people as well. This was great, there were more manatees than people, so everyone was able to have a great experience without crowding one another and overwhelming the animals. This mother and bumpy baby were some of the first to approach us. I’ve always heard that manatees have a very curious nature, this baby was 10 times more curious than I could have ever imagined. It grabbed on to me with it’s adorable little percoral fins. It rubbed itself on my leg like it was scratching a spot he just couldn’t reach any other way. It got right up in my face and mouthed at my mask. All while it’s mother calmly watched her little one explore. Being a mother myself, I was impressed with her confidence in her little one to explore and make good decisions and her trust in me, a complete stranger of a different species, to treat her baby with the respect it deserved. I would have been nervous as can be if it were the other way around. I’ll go ahead and say it, this momma manatee could possibly be a better mother than I am.

There were several times I didn’t even realize I had a visitor behind me until I felt the bump of them swimming next to me. I was in awe, I couldn’t believe how truely curious these guys were about us. Some ignored our presence, others seemed to really enjoy it. They would rub up against us, roll over for us, check us out… they actually seemed to be having fun with us just as we were with them.

This particular manatee pictured above was without a doubt my favorite manatee that I had the pleasure of meeting. I had somehow managed to seperate from my group and was swimming along by myself when he approached me. I honestly thought he was just going to pass me so I stopped to watch him go by. As I treaded water watching, he stopped and looked right back at me. We started swimming side by side, checking each other out. I was certainly enjoying his company, I could only imagine he was enjoying mine since he didn’t seem to make any attempt to leave me.

I motioned for my human friends to come meet my new manatee friend. He entertained us for quite some time. I had also always heard that manatees were very playful. This guy was ready to show us that first hand. He found a rope dangling from a boat and made a game of it, chewing and pulling on it like my dogs do at home with their toy ropes. He played with it for a minute or two before coming back over by us for more attention.

If you’ve ever wondered what a manatee kiss looks like, that is it! By this time we were all starting to get a little cold. Like the gentleman he had been during our entire encounter, he gave me a polite and adorable kiss goodbye. (Well, he wanted to play with my mask and camera, but for story-telling sake, kisses sound cuter!) Our entire group headed over to the boat to tackle the hot chocolate that was waiting for us on board. What a life saver that was! Since we all congregated at the same time, Captain Glenn decided to bring us to Three Sisters Springs.

Three Sisters was beautiful! The water was crystal clear and the manatees were easy to spot from the boat. There were quite a few hanging out here on this day, including moms and babies and even a tagged manatee. Steam was still rolling off the water. By now everyone was all warmed up and ready to hit the water again.

Once again, as soon as we hit the water, we were being checked out by a nosey manatee. He swam right on up to the boat and checked out everyone as they entered the water, he really was quite the welcome commitee.

Captain Glenn gathered us together to lead us into the springs. Inside was absolutely stunning. Huge trees surrounded clear water. You could dive down and literally see where the warm water was entering the springs. When we entered, we were alone – it was just our group, no other group, not even any manatees.

Sadly, our 3 hour tour was up and it was time to return.  We couldn’t believe how fast the day had gone! We were lead out of the springs by a manatee that had followed us in and passed others on our way to the boat that were eating and resting. As I thawed out with another round of hot chocolate, I though to myself “This was amazing. I am such a dummy for not having done this before!” And as I sit here writing this, months later, I still feel like a dummy for never doing it. I am happy to say that I have found a new anual tradition and WILL be returning when the weather begins to dip this winter. Until then, stay safe, sweet manatees!

While I have always loved manatees, this trip gave me a whole new level of respect and appreciation for these beautiful, endangered animals. They’re so much more personable than I ever gave them credit for. I have had a lot of adventures in my life and come across so many awesome animals, this was without a doubt the best! I can’t wait to share this experience with my son… of course when he is older and our of diapers.

IF YOU GO…

Captain Glenn and the entire staff at River Ventures are wonderful! I really can’t say enough nice things about them and I can’t wait to see them later this year when the weather cools. I love that River Ventures doesn’t have any hidden fees involved (as far as extra for wet suit or snorkel equiptment rentals, like some of the other companies I looked in to.) Also, your guide joins you in the water and takes pictures of your trip. It’s a great (and inexpensive) purchase if you don’t have a camera of your own or if you would rather enjoy your swim and not worry about snapping photos. (Even though my friend and I both had our water proof digital cameras we still bought the CD, it’s great!) Also, I HIGHLY suggest the early tour – we had only 6 people as opposed to the 3 full boats they had going out at 9am and the manatees are active early in the day. Manatee season runs from November – March, this it usually the best span of time to go (or any day that is cold like our lucky day in October.) During cold spells, hundreds of manatees pile into the springs to keep warm. If you want to go but will only be in the area when it’s warm outside, fear not, we also learned that there are a few resident manatees who are there all year round. If you want to learn more about River Ventures and their services, please visit their website…

http://www.riverventures.com/index.html

For general manatee information and to Adopt a Manatee, please visit…

http://www.savethemanatee.org/

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2 Comments »

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  1. Now that’s how to describe the experience of 2 very different animals sharing a common space in a natural habitat.


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