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Swimming with the Manatees

Wednesday, April 5 we departed Eglin Air Force Base for O'Leno State Park in High Springs, Florida. This was another long driving day and we did this to make the next two days shorter distances to travel. After spending a quiet night hooked up to the truck we got back on the road for the short 92 mile trip towards Sun Retreats Crystal River Resort.

This would be our base for one night and a scheduled 7AM morning swim with the manatees on Friday morning, April 7. We booked with Nature's Discovery company who takes guests from all over the world on scenic boat eco-tours of the Kings Bay Manatee Refuge snorkeling with these gentle giants. Their manatee snorkel tours offer the rare opportunity to enjoy up-close interactions with one of the sweetest animals on the planet.

Florida manatees are large, aquatic mammals that are native to Florida. Adult manatees are typically 9-10 feet long from snout to tail and weigh around 1,000 pounds; however, they may grow to over 13 feet long and weigh more than 3,500 pounds. Manatees have two fore limb flippers that they use for steering movements and to hold vegetation while eating. A large, round, flattened paddle-shaped tail is used for swimming. Manatees are aquatic herbivores (plant-eaters). Also known as "sea cows," these herbivores usually spend up to eight hours a day grazing on seagrasses and other aquatic plants. A manatee can consume from 4 to 9 percent of its body weight in aquatic vegetation daily.

On our day with the manatees we found a cow with her calf eating near a boat dock. We entered the water slowly and approached them as they grazed on the seagrass covering the bottom a few feet under us. It was like we were invisible to them. We swam together watching as they ate and moved around us. Every four or five minutes they would float to the surface to take a breath then sink back down to continue their meal. It was amazing get close and personal to swim with these gentle giants. A marvelous experience worth the time and cost.


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