June 9, 2011

Swimming with Manatees

Well, this was an experience I will definitely never forget.

So just what is a manatee, you might ask? They are large aquatic mammals living in freshwater and saltwater coastal regions. Manatees are sometimes known as "sea cows" and weigh approximately 1, 000 pounds. They have a whiskery-face and one large tail fin.

Below are some manatees we saw at Sea World. They look like boulders in the water, don't they?

And an underwater view of these guys at Sea World:

So whilst in Florida, we had arranged a day excursion on the Crystal River (western coast of FL) to snorkel and swim with manatees in their natural habitat.

First of all, the Crystal River was anything but. It was unfortunately quite murky, except when our guide, Captain Joe, took us to a little outlet of natural spring waters to swim in, where the water was as beautifully pure and crystal as they come.

It was just Dave, JJ, Jennie, Matt and myself on this excursion. We set out on the river at 10 am for an approximate five-hour adventure.

Captain Joe led us to places in the water where manatees were located. Manatees must surface every six minutes or so to take in air. He'd spot a few, maneuver the boat over to that area, then we'd all get in the water while Captain guided us to swim to where they were.

Unfortunately, these manatees in their natural habitat are badly scarred from motor boats. The river water is only about four or five feet deep here and the locals {sadly} nickname the manatees "speed bumps." However, the white scars on the back of the manatees made it much easier to spot them in the murky waters.

We were able to have quite a bit of contact with the manatees, even though this is the low season for manatees to be found in the river. It was so amazing to be swimming along these enormous, graceful animals!
We even had a baby manatee take interest in us and follow us back to our boat. This little baby swam directly up to Matt {which freaked him out a bit} and touched his whiskers to Matt's face!

Technically, you aren't supposed to touch the manatees, but we all had plenty of chances to, so we did! Their skin is very thick and leathery. Thankfully we didn't scare them away when we touched them, which can sometimes happen.

Below is a manatee we spotted in the river near the natural spring outlet, so the water is quite clear. It's a bit hard to make out the manatee underwater in the photo, but you can at least see that he is as long as the boat he's swimming next to!

As a side note, after seeing above pictures of my stark white skin in the water, you might be wondering if I got sunburned that day. The answer is, despite my 85 SPF waterproof sunscreen--yes I did. Only on my back, however. But I must add that everyone else did, too! And that it was the only time I burnt my skin in Florida.

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