Cindy and Marilyn’s Excellent Manatee Adventure

January 22, 2014 at 9:46 am (National Wildlife Refuges (US Fish & Wildlife), Nature, Photography, Wildlife) (, , )

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This is the season for manatees in Florida, and I did something I’ve always wanted to do – swim with them.  Actually, my son and I did this about 15 years ago, but it was later in the season and the manatees weren’t in the crystal clear springs since the weather was warmer.  We encountered them in the bay, with low visibility.  Now I was going in cold weather and in clear waters, and I was determined to photograph them, so I bought a Nikon CoolPix A110 at Best Buy the day before.  It is waterproof to 59 feet and was the easiest to use of the three waterproof cameras they had in stock.  Plus, how can you go wrong with Nikon?

My friend Marilyn and I took his trip with Bird’s Underwater Dive Shop in Crystal River, Florida.  They have it down to an art – arrive 6:00 a.m., get a wetsuit, fins, mask, and snorkel; watch a video produced by US Fish & Wildlife on manatee manners (to avoid harassing them); and get on the boat.  We weren’t allowed into the Three Sisters Springs because of the huge number of manatees seeking refuge from the cold snap, but the manatees came and went while we floated just outside the roped boundaries.  I had been to this area in the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge on Saturday, since it was open to the public during the Manatee Festival.  This area was recently preserved through the efforts of the citizens of Crystal River, US Fish & Wildlife, and other entities, and the land access is being rehabbed for public access so is only open during special events.

There were hundreds of manatees – stacked like boulders to keep warm and rest because their feeding waters in the Gulf of Mexico were too cold.  There were also hundreds of snorkelers and kayakers in the water with them during the Festival – and it is necessary to close off areas like this when so many manatees are seeking a quiet place to stay alive until they can feed again.  The 72 degree waters from these springs – and many others like them in Central Florida – are necessary for their winter survival.  But there were plenty of manatees to see without accessing this area.

Captain Donna brought a video camera to capture the memories for us – and glamour girl Marilyn was the star of the show.  I, on the other hand, had difficulties.  First, I don’t like tight-fitting clothes, so the wetsuit took some getting used to, especially around my neck.  Second, the flippers kept flipping me over!  (I don’t remember having this problem before – so I took them off)  But the worst was that water kept getting in my mouth through the snorkel.  It wasn’t until my time in the water was half over that Marilyn told me I had to fit the plastic gripper between my lips and teeth, and bite down on the bite thingies!  I did not remember doing that before, but then it WAS ancient history 🙂

So with all those issues, I couldn’t really get comfortable, even though the manatees were HERE!  They swam right up to me.  I know they are gentle giants and would not hurt anyone, but even the babies were huge, and I was uncomfortable in their element.  It kind of freaked me out.  Also I kept thinking they’re not supposed to trust us so much – after all, humans are the primary reason manatees have trouble surviving – polluted waters, speedboats that cut sometimes fatal gashes (many manatees have boat scars), and being loved to death by tourists like me.

But Marilyn had no such problems – she did like she was supposed to and just floated quietly.  The best encounter was the baby that came right up to us, sucking on clothing and masks (manatee kisses) and wanting to play with us.  I couldn’t help giggling underwater – and of course I had to catch my breath at the surface, interrupting the magic.  But as you can see in my video, it was something I will always treasure.  (Note:  if you get this in your email you might need to go to the WordPress site to see the video)

Back at the dive shop, Donna showed us the video.  I was impressed that it needed no editing.  She captured us interacting with the manatees – and Marilyn was featured most prominently because she had some fantastic encounters. Of course, we bought a copy!

A tip if you go with Bird’s – remember the sleeve number of your wetsuit, the color of your swim noodle, or wear something that makes you stand out.  We all look alike in wetsuits and masks, and you want to know which of those video stars is you.  Then again, you can just say that person getting a manatee kiss was you – who’s to know differently?

I do plan to return soon – this time I will be an old “pro” with that old wetsuit and snorkel business.

For Marilyn’s story about the experience, see her blog, Adventures of a Vagabond Volunteer.

Photos and text copyrighted by Cindy McIntyre

Feel free to reblog or share

Website:  CindyMcIntyre.com

Online gallery:  Smugmug

Original hand-painted BW photographs for sale:  Etsy

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4 Comments

  1. DesertAbba said,

    sounds like an exciting learning adventure!

  2. Judy Bell said,

    So, where is the video??

  3. Judy Bell said,

    Oops. It didn’t appear in my email version, but when I left that comment, it showed up.

  4. joannie6535 said,

    Thanks for all the information. We are planning a trip to Florida in the next few weeks and Crystal River is on our itinerary. Your blog was so very timely.

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