Experience One of Florida’s Wonders
First discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1493, these curious creatures were originally thought to be mermaids. Yes, mermaids! It took a long time for them to be recognized as marine mammals, whose closest ancestor is another gentle giant — the elephant. Despite great habitat loss, today, manatees are protected by law in Florida and the entire United States, and their numbers are slowly beginning to increase.
If you want to swim with manatees, you have to make sure the timing is right. Every winter, they leave the food-packed Atlantic Ocean and its cold waters to warm up in the natural warm springs of Crystal River. Every year, thousands of visitors flock to Florida for a chance to experience a close encounter of the manatee kind, and you can, too.
Follow the Bubbles
The best time to spot manatees is early in the morning, pre-dawn almost. Look for the tell-tale bubbles rising to the surface — a sure sign manatees are nearby. Where do the bubbles come from, you might ask? Well, in addition to sleeping and eating, these curious creatures also spend their days farting. A lot. Ergo, the bubbles.
Remember to move slowly in the springs – so you don’t muddy the waters and scare the manatees away. And then, if you’re lucky, you can see them up close. Don’t be surprised if they approach you and even grab your hand with their fins. Some would even roll around and offer you their belly to stroke. It’s almost as if you’re petting a dog or a welcoming cat. Only it happens underwater.
Respect Their Needs
Manatees are naturally curious beings, but it doesn’t mean you should push their limits. Interactions generally happen on their terms, and that’s the correct order of things. While some are eager to interact with humans, others prefer to be left alone or simply decide to sleep underwater, only rising to the surface to breathe every 15 to 20 minutes.
If you go to Crystal River in Florida, make sure to get a guide who will show you all the necessary safety precautions as well as what to do while in the water with the manatees. Protecting yourself and their habitat is crucially important to preserve these beautiful wild animals and secure their future.