Sara Godwin

Manatee Manners

In Florida, Travel, Wildlife on May 21, 2012 at 3:01 am

According to Captain Jeff at the Plantation Inn Dive Shop in Crystal River, to see manatees one must be versed in manatee manners.  It begins, as all successful social interactions do, with dressing properly for the occasion.  The correct dress for meeting one’s first manatees is a swimsuit over which a wet suit is layered.  Getting into a wet suit is one of those things which is easier said than done, but in the end, everyone managed to wiggle and wriggle, tug and twist until the fact was accomplished. Next comes the flippers, and last — at last! — a face mask and snorkel.  His students thus attired, Captain Jeff begins the lessons in etiquette.  First, slip into the water silently. Splashing and water vibrations cause the manatees to swim slowly out of sight. Use a breaststroke to swim, and keep your flippers underwater, again to keep splashing to a minimum.  Manatees don’t make any noise, and they’d rather you didn’t either.

Once you locate the manatees, just float off to one side.  Because their eyes are on the side of the head, hanging around the tail puts you in the manatee’s ‘blind spot’. Floating directly over them does the same, and it may startle both parties if the manatee comes up for air while you’re there. Since manatees are all bigger than you are, weighing in at around a ton or so, it’s best if they know where you are.  Since manatees have no natural predators — neither sharks nor alligators have them on the menu — they are both gentle and unafraid.

They look like exceedingly large gray sausages with absurdly small heads in proportion to the rest of the animal. If you make noise or surround them, they vanish.  If you don’t, they may move closer to you.  While it is bad manners for you to reach out to touch them, it is a moment of transcendent epiphany if you have behaved well enough by manatee standards for them to touch you.  I’m told it happens, but I wasn’t that lucky.  I did see manatees, both awake and sleeping, and that was thrilling enough for my first time out.  I can promise you that I will go back again to see if I can behave enough like a well-mannered manatee that one would like to make my acquaintance.

Look up Captain Jeff at the Plantation Inn on Crystal River in Citrus County, Florida.  The guy has three degrees in ecology, and  is exceptionally knowledgeable and informative.  Above all, don’t miss the manatees!

  1. You make me want to brush up my Manatee Manners and head for Florida.

    Iris in Annapolis, CA.

  2. Good! That’s exactly the reaction I was hoping for. Keep reading — there’s more to come.

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