Swimming with Manatees!
My decision to head to Crystal River, Florida was a deliberate one: I was on a mission to swim with manatees. So, before sunrise on my second full day in Florida I boarded a pontoon boat owned by River Ventures Manatee Tour company and was on my way to the preserve located within the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge.
Manatees are protected by federal law and entrance into the sanctuary by boat or human is strictly forbidden, but provided you stay outside the clearly marked boundaries, encounters with the lumbering marine animals are permitted. In addition to having a designated safe space, the manatees are also protected by laws which prohibit people from initiating contact or in any way harassing them; so while they are welcome to approach you or your outstretched hand for example, you may not reach out and touch them. The best tactic in order to prevent startling them is in fact to move as little as possible and remain floating on the surface, waiting passively
The animals are most active in the early morning, swimming in search of food, so I opted to take the earliest tour. That morning the temperatures were hovering around the freezing mark which resulted in an ethereal mist over the water that accentuated the beauty of the sunrise and the clouds streaked across the brightening sky. While it was certainly cold getting into the water, the 72 degree water made it completely tolerable. And really, who cares? I was going to get to see manatees!
Now that all the explaining is out of the way, can I tell you just how excited I was to be able to see manatees up close?!?!? And how my experience exceeded even my wildest dreams?!?!? As soon as I paddled to near the preserve boundary I was approached by manatees, eager to nuzzle my hand, nibble on my camera, and position themselves for belly rubs. I was entertained by the adorable giants for over an hour, rarely left to myself; as soon as one tired of me or wanted to move on, another would emerge from the cloudy water (usually startling me as they seemed to appear out of nowhere) in order to check me out. Occasionally more than one would loom a few yards away, as if on standby. I felt loved.
At one point two manatees conspired to play with me – a situation aptly described by a friend of mine as being treated as though I were a pool toy: One swam underneath me then rose to the surface, carrying me along before submerging deeper, whereupon the other would position himself underneath me and repeat the process. I was continually amazed the entire time, so much so that more than once I somehow managed to choke on the snorkel and ended up just holding my breath for while [side note: I’m a great swimmer but apparently a sub-par snorkeler].
As incredible as all this was, it didn’t compare to the best experience of the morning however, which occurred just before we left. A manatee had swum right up to me but had stopped with his snout inches from my face, hovering as he stared at me for what was likely only ten seconds but felt like an eternity. I believe we in fact communicated. And then he moved aside and placed his flipper in my hand that had been floating outstretched to the side. As I moved my fingertips ever so slightly he pulled his flipper in towards his body and simultaneously rotated onto his back, actually pulling me along with him by holding my hand. I can’t think of too many experiences in my life that even compare to this.
I did this last January, but it looks like you had such an intimate experience! I love that you got so many incredible photos! Manatees are one of my favorite animals and I loved doing this! I’m making a catchup attempt on here – geez you’ve done a lot since I last stopped by! I love that you’re continuing on this amazing journey!
I remember reading about your experience, Paige and I knew wanted to do it too. It was one of the most amazing things ever! I need to make a catch up attempt on your blog too – for whatever reason my phone doesn’t open some websites very well and so I tend to only read it when I have wifi but I love reading about1 your adventures as well! Happy travels
We swim with manatees over on the East Coast of Florida too, they are such peaceful, loving animals. Anyone who knows the importance they play in our ecosystem here would know why it’s so important that we protect them. Great photos!!
They are amazing animals, Florida Minimalist, I agree. I think its wonderful that protected areas have been established and are enforced, but it’s concerning that the winter river temperatures have been threatening populations in recent years.
Incredible Meghan!! What an experience!
Thank you, Liz! It was truly special!
Ohmygosh. The picture of the manatee’s nose sticking out of the water is the BEST! And the misty morning looks soooo romantic.
I think their snouts are terribly adorable. In fact, I think *they* are terribly adorable!
Beautiful photos and such a great experience!!
Thank you, Mandy! It was truly amazing.