Saturday we went to Crystal River with 3 other couples, to snorkel with the manatees in the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge. Normally the tour with Manatee Tour and Dive costs $49.00, but one of the couples found a Groupon, so we only paid $20 each. Even at the full cost of $49, it would be well worth the experience.
First, a little background about manatees. Manatees are herbivorous (plant-eating) marine mammals, sometimes referred to as sea cows. There are three main types of manatees: Amazonian, West Indian, and West African. The manatees in Florida are West Indian. They come to Crystal River because the water temperature in the springs remains 72 degrees year round. Manatees, despite their size, do not have a lot of body fat, and cannot survive for an extended period of time in water that is less than 68 degrees.
Manatees can live upwards of 60 years, weigh 800 – 1200 pounds, and are 8-10 feet in length. A baby manatee weighs about 66 pounds at birth. Manatees spend half their day sleeping, and can stay under water for 20 minutes, before floating up to the surface for a quick breath of air, then gently sink back down. They are still an endangered species, and are very gentle animals, when treated with respect. It is against the law to approach a manatee, but you can touch it, if it approaches you first. The tour company goes over a long list of the rules of what you can and cannot do during the tour. And there are many volunteers in the wildlife sanctuary that make sure us humans respect the gentle giants.
Our tour started out with getting fitted for a wet suit, which neither of us have ever worn before. The suit is required, since the water is 72 degrees, and helps to keep you afloat.
After we squeezed into the suits, they have a brief safety and informational video on the manatees. Then it is off to the boat, where we received more instruction from our captain.
Here’s our group from the campground:
Captain Glen used a stuffed manatee to explain the areas we are allowed to touch if a manatee approaches you.
Our tour group before we headed out to the sanctuary:
Once we get near the sanctuary, the boat is anchored in the river, and we all get our “flotation noodles”, and slowly get acclimated to the cooler temperatures in the water.
The river water is pretty murky, and then we follow Captain Glen into the sanctuary, where the water gets pretty clear. Here is a manatee that popped up for a quick breath of air. You can see darker shadows under the water where other manatees were hanging out.
For me, it was a little frightening when you see this coming at you!! But they truly are gentle mammals.
If you remain still in the water, and keep your feet up, they will come right up to you.
I do not swim, so Dan would check in on me to make sure I was doing okay!
Dan had one swim right under him!
We were in the water about 1 1/2 hours, and saw manatees the entire time. With the cooler weather, the sanctuary had hundreds of them seeking out the warmer water temperature. Many of the manatees stay year round, but the best viewing is during the winter months. We had a happy group on the return trip. Our captain had hot chocolate for our return trip back.
Everyone had a fantastic time, and we would highly recommend this experience if you are in the area.
Quote for the day: “Love the manatee and save the manatee.” – John Lithgow