Wednesday, December 14, 2011


So while in Florida, Jon and I got to swim with the manatees. We used Bird's Underwater Dive Center's services, and our Captain (Captain John) was just great. It is right off of Crystal River. As it turned out, we picked a wonderful time for our tour. We did an afternoon excursion and it ended up just being Jon and I out there as a tour group of two. Yes, we felt special and spoiled.

Can I just say it? It was AMAZING. Manatees are such gentle giants. And the young ones make the cutest little squeaky noises. Their closest land relatives are elephants and hyraxes. I can see the elephant resemblance much more so than the tiny hyrax connection. They have thick gray skin that can be smooth or super wrinkly and it looks very much like elephant skin, complete with the sparse hairs, but with algae growing on it.

I have yet to get my film photos from the day developed, so for now, I'll share the digital photos that Jon got.

After a video instructing us on the rules of interacting with the manatees and getting suited up, we took off in a very slow-moving vessel, waving goodbye to Jon's parents in the drizzling rain. It wasn't the best day for regular sightseeing, but it ended up being a lovely day for spotting manatees. Manatees can't handle being cooler than 68F for too long, so when the weather gets chilly, they all congregate around the warm springs, which makes them easier for us to spot. Hurray!

We started off at Three Sisters Springs and had our most luck there. Captain John led us out to the springs, and we saw a couple of manatees right off, but they were more interested in napping than saying hello. They will go up to the surface to take in a deep breath and then slowly sink down to the bottom for naps that last 20 minutes, at which time they wake, go up for air, and start over...

There's Captain's John's head sticking out of the water talking to someone looking out for the manatees.
One of the springs
After a while with some sleepy manatees, we started to head back to the boat when all of a sudden we were met with four manatees coming right for us. They passed peacefully and silently beneath us in a small channel. It was kind of mesmerizing watching these huge creatures glide by so fluidly. So we let them go by, waited a couple of minutes, and then followed them back into the springs.

Mama manatees with their "little ones"

Every manatee we saw had markings all over their backs. Sadly, even with all the protective rules set up, the manatees still end up with scars and injuries from boats. Captain John explained that most of the deaths in that area weren't brought on by getting sliced by a propeller. He says that in his experience, it is when a boat's bow collides with a manatee that the worst damage takes place. It takes a boat only going 14mph to kill a manatee if they hit one head-on. Pretty much every manatee will have a myriad of scars running across their backs and tails from propellers. Sad, but this is what makes them easy to identify by those studying them. Captain John says that the manatees in that part of Florida were actually doing really well with the boating and tourist regulations.

Manatee with propeller scars...

This next photo that Jon took, I just absolutely love. Seriously, how great is this--

Can you see me in the distance?

These manatees were more social. Especially the babies. They would make their little "eep" noises and approach us to check us out. They don't have the best eyesight, but they can sense you with the vibrations your motions make against their sparse body hairs. Jon and I each had the opportunity to touch the extra-wrinkly manatee baby. He/she came right up to Jon and I and we are allowed to reach one arm out at a time, so we each had a turn to pet a baby manatee!

And now, a couple more mommy-baby manatee shots...

Aren't they just so stinkin' cute together? And in case you're wondering, that's how the baby manatees breastfeed. Yep, their boobs are under their armpits.

NOT a manatee.
Seeing that we still had some time on the clock, Captain John took us to one other spot after this but the water was much deeper and much more murky. We got a good look at a bunch of different fish, but only caught sight of one other manatee. It nearly swam into us with how murky the water was. That kind of water freaked me out to swim in, I'll admit.

By the way, the wet suits were such a lifesaver. We would have frozen our little buns off if it weren't for them. The water in the springs area stays close to 70F, but with the rain and wind hitting our backs, we would have had a miserable experience if it were not for the warming wet suits. As soon as we got back in the boat, Captain Jon prepared some hot cocoa for us to sip on. I was grateful because the second I got out of the water and the wind hit, I started shaking. Yay for hot cocoa!

We didn't wait to get back to change, but chose to get into our dry-ish clothes while hiding in a little zipped-off corner of the boat. After purchasing our video and a hoodie for me, we went straight over to Charlie's Fish House. It is literally next door to Bird's, and Jon and I were both in need of some warm food. Jon and I shared a bowl of clam chowder and a bowl of lobster chowder. They were both amazing and full of seafood. And the food warmed us up indeed.

So yes, it was an awesome, amazing outing.

If you are interested in checking out the video that we got from Bird's of Jon and I snorkeling, you can view it HERE. That's Jon's website. Just scroll down on the left to where it says "Videos" and click on "Manatee Encounter (2011)."

1 comment:

  1. whoa! looks so fun! that's awesome you guys went to florida, when was this?