Swimming with Manatees: An Amazing Experience With Crystal River’s Manatees


Citrus County, FL is the only place in the entire world where you can legally swim with wild manatees under certain restrictions.

Sorry I was not able to blog for the past couple of weeks. I have been vacationing in Florida with my family and the condo where we were staying at had very poor internet service; but overall, I hope everyone had both a great Christmas and New Year. 

Last night I had return from a great vacation in Florida and it was such a great trip even though the Gulf was pretty cold around the late fifties to mid sixties. However, it was all worth it, just like my manatee swim in the Crystal River. Like I got in the water and before long, two adult manatees began to swim around me and my group as if they wanted to just play with us. All the two manatees wanted us to do was to just let us rub them while they remained curious about us. While I managed to rub the manatees, I did however, at some points had to back away from them just to give them space so they could still manage to swim along the river (though I did get eye-to-eye with one). Still, it felt so relaxing to just spend almost an hour being the mysterious underwater world of the Florida manatee. Soon after, the captain called my group and I (I was the only unrelated person in my group of five people by the way) to the return the boat, we made it to the Three Sisters Springs where the majority of the world’s colony of both adult female and juvenile manatees are often sighted during the winter months.

A newborn manatee calf nurses from his mother in the Three Sisters Springs in Crystal River, FL.

The minute the boat arrived at the Three Sisters Springs, I was a little horrified by all the boat traffic that was surrounding the manatees; but despite my anger about the heavy boat traffic in that single area, I had to remind myself that I did not come there to get angry over the large number of boats and people in a manatee habitat and enjoy the manatees and nothing more. After plunging into the spring, I approached a juvenile that was feeding near a mangrove. I just stood there and just watched him eat at the bottom of the spring for like a few minutes before I found myself getting shoved around by other swimmers which spooked the manatee off.  Meanwhile, I was shoved so far away into the spring, that I ended up finding myself among a mother and a calf pair. Although the pair were not swimming, they resting at the bottom of the shallow spring while the swimmers circled them in their surroundings. Up until that point, I had never seen a manatee nurse from it’s mother before so, seeing a newborn calf nurse his mom out in the wild for the first time was such a sight to see. After watching the baby manatee nurse, I continued my exploration of the shallow spring by swimming around  before coming across an entire colony of manatees resting at a deeper side of the spring.  So, I decided  to just spend the rest of the morning just observing the resting manatees in the deep end. As I observed the resting animals, one animal began to role on his back while another animal left the deep end to join up with other nearby colonies.

An adult manatee rolling on the sand at the bottom of the Three Sisters Springs in Citrus County, FL.

When the time did come to leave the spring and return to the boat in order to return to the dive shop, my group and I witnessed a group of manatees getting startled in an off-limits area by thrashing their bodies around the entire netted area like crazy. I wondered what the animals where thinking when they were thrashing around like that. Was it because they got spooked by the large number of people swimming around their habitat? Was it a sign of play? Or Where they just fighting? I don’t know what the thrashing manatees where thinking when they just started splashing like that and I guess we may never know because we can’t directly read their minds; however, I can safely assume it was likely a sign of aggression between two or more animals fighting over the right to mate with breeding females because after all, this was the time of year when the manatees breed. Overall, it was just a great experience swimming with wild manatees and I hope I get that chance again one day.

Rules regarding how to legally swim with wild manatees

  1. While you can float near the manatees, do not make too much noise like splashing or trending water because that can scare the manatees away. Remain quite as possible
  2. do not enter any manatee sanctuaries that are marked and roped off from the public.
  3. Let the manatee come to you. There is no need to chase them around like cattle in any shape or form and that’s considered harassment under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. However, if the manatee wants to be petted, feel free to rub the animal as long as you manage to give them space for them to swim on. Do not pet mothers with nursing calves.
  4. Never ever try to separate a mother from her calf because a manatee calf needs it’s mother to teach it all the necessary survival skills it would need in order to survive into adulthood.
  5. Never feed or give manatees water.
  6. Do not ride the manatees.
  7. If you choose to observe the manatees underwater, only use snorkeling gear from the surface.
  8. If you come across sleeping manatees, just let them be.
  9. Do not videotape manatees without written permission from the Fish and Wildlife Service. This should only be used for scientific and educational purposes.
  10. Use non-flash-able cameras when taking pictures of the manatees because flash can harm a wild manatee
  11. If you see a sick, orphaned, or injured manatee during your swim session, please have your instructor call wildlife officials immediately.

I hope these rules will help you  have a great manatee swim experience. Have a great evening everyone.

~Jenna~

 

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