If you’ve been following me through Florida, you know how much love and appreciation I have developed for manatees since I have been here. It has been amazing to see them so often in so many different places, especially knowing that not long ago they were on the endangered species list. These beautiful, big mammals are so peaceful that I find them relaxing just to watch. During the winter, the open ocean and Gulf of Mexico become too cold for the manatee, so they make their way upriver to natural fresh water springs, which have constant temperatures year-round. The manatee will spend their winters there, venturing out when the water is warmer to find food.
The only place you can legally get in the water to swim with manatees in Florida is in Crystal River, and I have been looking forward to doing this during my entire stay in the Sunshine State. I chose to do my trip with the company Fun 2 Dive, because they are established, family owned and got excellent reviews . Also, being Miles2Go myself, it seemed appropriate. I chose the 7 a.m. departure because the colder it is, the more likely you are to encounter the manatee near the springs (and thus in clearer water).
I arrived at 6:45 a.m. to check in and was greeted by enthusiastic staff and a hot cup of coffee. We watched a brief video about the manatee and about how we should interact with them. The most important rule was while they can touch you, you cannot touch them. They stressed that we should do everything possible to minimize our impact on the manatee’s behavior and just try and float near them and enjoy their company.
When we were all ready, we gathered our gear and headed down to the dock where we boarded our boat. I was surprised and happy to find my group was so small, with just four of us and a guide and captain on-board. We set off to find our manatee, and the river was beautiful so early in the morning.
On our first attempt to get in the water, the manatee spooked and took off. On our second attempt, though, we found one. He was huge, way bigger than me and I’m a big guy. He didn’t seem bothered by us at all and went right on munching on his breakfast. We got to hover around him for a solid half hour, taking pictures and just enjoying the experience. It was wonderful, and warmed me all the way to my soul.
We had spent a fair bit of our time looking for manatee, so this was the only encounter we would have on our trip. I had hoped for more, but it was warming up after a long cold spell so there just weren’t many in the area. They are wild animals after all, and that is part of the adventure. I was grateful to have gotten in the water with the one manatee we did find and to have that experience.
On the way back to the dock, we came across a mother and calf swimming downriver. While we didn’t have enough time to get in the water with them, we were able to stay and watch them from the surface for a while. I know this made us late back to the dock and shop, but we all appreciated the extra 10 minutes to be with these manatees.
In all, it was a great experience out on the water. My guide and captain were both excellent and extremely knowledgeable. Most important, though, was that they genuinely seemed to care about the manatee and their health and well-being. I would definitely recommend Fun 2 Dive as your manatee encounter guide, as I couldn’t have been happier with my experience.