Sara Godwin

Posts Tagged ‘Manatees’

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!


Florida Safari: Manatees, Skimmers, and Spoonbills

In Baby Boomers, Birding, Florida, Travel on May 18, 2012 at 9:44 pm

I almost missed the manatees. In the process of reading the itinerary so I’d be fully prepared for my Gulf Coast safari, I noticed that my flight arrived AFTER the swim with the manatees. A few phone calls later  (plus ticket change fees), things got sorted out, and I shall be en route to snorkeling with the manatees tonight. Having scrambled to get there, I REALLY hope I’ll actually see some.  I’m wildly curious about manatees.  History has it that manatees are the original mermaids. Having seen photos of manatees, one can only conclude that the sailors who described these ‘mermaids’ were a long way from home, had been a long time at sea, and were seriously lonely.   

I wonder how close one can get … With elephant seals on the beaches of Año Nuevo, California, the rule is 20 yards away.  When I swam with fur seals and sea lions in the Galapagos, the seals themselves decided how close they were willing to get.  The sea lions cavorted about 20 feet away, and acted as though they were inviting me to play. I’m a good swimmer, but I know when I’m out of my league.  I took my delight in watching them.  The fur seals came zipping toward me on a collision course, swerving off to one side just prior to impact.  I think they were as curious about me as I was about them.  But manatees?  I don’t know yet, but I’ll let you know as soon as do.  Same goes for skimmers and roseate spoonbills.  I’ve seen both species before, but they’re so very odd-looking, I feel as if I should l look again, just to make sure they’re really a strange as I remember. Stay tuned!