Swimming with the Manatees

A couple Saturday’s ago, the Mchugh girls, Mr. Funk and I went snorkeling with the manatees at Crystal River with the Manatee Tour and Dive company ( http://www.manateetouranddive.com/ )

What an awesome experience! I have been snorkeling only twice before this. The first time was in Florida, which wasn’t a terrific experience – it was before I had my laser eye surgery and I didn’t realize before signing up that my glasses wouldn’t fit under the goggles. I wasn’t even able to see the barracuda swimming below us! The second time was in Australia where I also didn’t have a terrific experience – I could see, but I had gotten seasick on the way out to the barrier reefs. That was my first time being seasick, and despite what you may have heard from other people, getting seasickness is not a good time! This manatee snorkel was finally a good snorkeling experience for me.

We started our journey off with a way too long car drive. It was very early, but we were running late. My GPS informed us that we were going to be arriving about 15 minutes after we needed to be there. 15 minutes isn’t too bad… but unfortunately, we ended up hitting an unexpected pocket of traffic which pushed us to being 45 minutes late. Luckily the tour group waited for us to arrive before setting off on the river. I guess that wasn’t a huge surprise as we were the majority of the group.

Before we changed into our (provided) wetsuits, we were required to watch a movie teaching how not to bother the manatees. They are a protected species, and if you harass them in any way you can be fined or jailed. Of course, as far as I could tell, none of us came to annoy the manatees.

After we watched the video, we suited up in the wetsuits and got into the boat. We all looked pretty sexy.

The boat traveled for about 10 minutes before we saw any manatees. To pass the time, our guide and my friend Mr. Funk were wondering out loud what manatee meat might taste like. “I bet they are pretty fatty….” “No actually, you would be surprised, there is very little fat on them!”

Eventually we got to the manatee zone. They require that you keep boat speed to a minimum in manatee areas, as they have a tendency to travel close to the surface and can easily be injured by boat motors. If you look at the back of a wild manatee, more likely than not you will see scars from past motorboat injuries.

Just then the guide perked up. “OK guys and gals, look over there!” “There” there was a couple of manatees swimming around – or so he said, but I couldn’t see them from the boat. The guide dropped anchor and said, “OK, this is it. When you get in the water, make sure that you don’t touch the ground with your feet or you will kick up the sediment at the bottom and the water will look cloudier.” We all kind of looked at each other. The water seemed like it was really cold, and no one wanted to be first to get in. The water on this river is 72 degrees all year round, and as warm as that sounds, it can still cause hypothermia with prolonged exposure. The guide saw our hesitation and he followed up with “Don’t worry, I promise, the first 60 seconds are the worst, but then the water inside your suit will warm up.” I turned to Mchugh #2 and said “also, I heard that if you are really cold, you can always pee in your suit to warm yourself up.” This is a true fact, I learned that while in Surf Camp during my Australia trip – not that I peed in my suit of course. She looked at me as if I had lost my mind. “Um, yeah… I think I’ll pass on peeing in my suit.”

Mr. Funk decided to be the brave first soul to get in, and when I saw that he didn’t immediately freeze into an ice cube I got in next. The experience pretty much went like this: “Ahhhhh! Brrrrrr… cold… cold… chatter chatter… oh… my… god!!!! Oh wait, OK, it’s really not that bad…. lets find some manatees!”

I put my head in the water and began to swim towards the direction of the manatees. It wasn’t very easy to see underwater because the river was quite cloudy. Hopefully this wouldn’t result in me not being able to see the manatees. In order to get closer to these gentle sea cows, we would have to swim underneath a pipe sectioning off the area. None of us wanted to swim under it and have our snorkeling gear completely under water, but this time I was the first to, shall we say, take the plunge?

Above you can see me swimming like a fish. I don’t know who owns the house behind me, and I haven’t a clue as to whether they like the fact that the people of Manatee Tour and Dive are always bringing people to snorkel in their back yard. But no one came out to shake a fist at us shouting “You divers get off my yard!”

I was able to find one of the manatees, but he kept a pretty good distance from us. He was not in a friendly cuddly mood. You can see that the water wasn’t as clear as it could be, but I did try to take a few pictures anyway.


Snorkeling is incredibly relaxing. All you have to do is float face down in the water. I wonder if this is what mob victims feel like? Though I would definitely prefer being a snorkeler to being a victim.

I was swimming around looking at the manatees for another 15 minutes or so, hoping that one of them would come a little closer to me (I really wanted to get that money shot for my blog post) when I realized how quiet and empty it had gotten around me. I lifted my head up out of the water to see where everyone else had gone, but all I saw was this:

Where were all my people? I looked over to the boat and saw that everyone (minus me) was in it. I am also pretty sure they were talking about me. I swam hurriedly back to the boat. “How long was everyone waiting for me?” I wondered out loud. Mchugh #1 said, “We all swam back one at a time as we got bored and cold. We were almost going to leave you! The tour’s only two hours.”

I looked around all the chattering teeth around me. OK… I was a bit confused. Was that it? Were we all done? Is that all there is to a manatee tour? If that’s all there is, my friend, then let’s keep dancing!

I was very disappointed. I didn’t think anywhere near two hours had gone by. Then Mchugh #2 said “I am NOT going back into that freezing cold water unless the manatees are doing back flips out there.” Oh! So that means we were not done. Hooray! We boated a little while longer until we got to the next spot.

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“This next place you have about a 25% chance of seeing a manatee, but the snorkeling is really beautiful. To get to the good spot, all you have to do is swim past those two white signs. There are all kinds of beautiful fish, turtles, and underwater plants.” Mr. Funk was the one who spoke what we were all thinking. “Ummm… The signs that say ‘danger’? Are you serious?” “Yes! It’s really pretty in there!”

Mchugh 1 and Mchugh 2 decided that the water was too cold for them to get back into. They had already been swimming with the manatees once before, and they were OK with missing the pretty and dangerous part of the river.

Mr. Funk was the first to jump in and he headed straight for the signs. I jumped in next, and almost immediately I saw this little guy:

Mr. Funk had swam right past him without even stopping. You can see his feet in the above picture. I figured maybe he was more looking forward to seeing the pretty part in the dangerous river. Me, I wanted to get to know this little manatee better! The water was plenty clear in this part of the river, and the manatee was very photogenic!

I named him Mr. Freckles because I wanted the most absurd manatee name I could think of. Also, Mr. Freckles is a friggin cute name! The picture below makes me feel as though he is professing his undying love to me. Or saying, “Who, me?”

I loved this picture as well, his pose is fantastic!

And here he is, taking a little rest on the bottom of the riverbed!

And you will be VERY happy to know that I did get some video of the manatee as well. Here it is (edited a bit):

Having seen enough for now of Mr. Freckles, and promising to visit him again on my way back, I decided to go off to the “pretty” area behind the danger signs. It was nice snorkeling. There were a lot of schools of fish and interesting underwater plants. There were also a lot of leaves floating around – this must be the only way you could tell it is fall in Florida.

The current was extremely strong in the river, pushing back against me as I was trying to swim. Perhaps this was the rivers way of saying “Nooo! Go back! Danger!”, but I am not known for listening to rivers.

Enjoy some of the pictures I took while snorkeling:

I was trying to get a cool picture here of both above and below the water. It didn’t turn out as good as I hoped it would though.


And some underwater growth:

Here’s a picture of me from underneath the water. My goggles kept fogging up on me for some reason. I am pretty sure the guide said something about what to do if that happened but guess I wasn’t paying close enough attention to him because I couldn’t remember for the life of me.

There were a whole group of scuba divers in the river along with us. That is what I want to do next… learn to scuba dive. I’ve got to wait for the Groupon though!

Finally I decided it was time to try to get back to the boat. I say try because… well… as most people who know me will tell you, my sense of direction leaves much to be desired. I did get a bit turned around before I finally made it back to the boat. I thought maybe if I just went in the direction of the current and let it carry me along I would easily find my way back, but I didn’t want to take the chance of floating aimlessly down a river so I had to ask directions from a passing scuba-ist.

After another quick stop to see Mr. Freckles I was back on the boat with my peeps. On the boat ride back we saw another manatee which had a floatie tied to its tail which marked its location. Our guide told us that it was a previously injured manatee that wildlife officials wanted to keep track of while it’s being rehabilitated. We were not permitted to swim with this particular manatee. We watched as it rolled around and around under the water (I was thinking about how Mchugh #2 said she would only swim with a manatee doing back flips and wondered if this would have been good enough for her). The guide told us that while it looks like he is playing and having fun, the fact that the manatee was rolling around like that was a sign of extreme stress. Wanna check out the video? Go ahead!

One last thing that caught my attention during my manatee tour. Check out these ducks:

Yeah, they are fake. But when I was looking at them, I thought they were real. “Wow! Those ducks have been perfectly still for a while!” Don’t laugh, my eyes were still blurry from the water and the camera can see closer up than I can. It reminded me of the time when a friend and I saw an iguana in the street and started directing cars around it so it wouldn’t get hit. When we finally went to pick up the lizard, we realized it was just a toy.

Anyway, we got back and changed out of the scuba suit and into our warm clothes and I just couldn’t help myself. I had to visit the gift shot and buy myself these:

You can’t tell me that these baby manatee pajamas are not adorable. I am such a sucker for pajamas.

Another awesome trip. I’m already planning on going back at the end of November or December when there are more manatees about. If anyone wants to join, let me know! Feel free to fly down to Florida. The weather here is fantastic in November and December.