I’d like to introduce you to some of my new friends. They are an endangered species because they die out in winter when it gets too cold. They also get hit by boats & caught up in fishing nets. Some Manatee sanctuaries have been set up in Crystal River, Florida , in the US, where it is possible for you to go and interact with them (as long as you don’t harass or stress them).
They are big gentle animals, and once you meet them in person it’s impossible not to love them! They vie with each other for your attention as long as you give them a good tickle. In fact I did more scratching of bellies than I did taking of photographs, which should tell you how compelling they are.
The best time to see them is in the winter because they come into the warm springs where the sanctuaries have been set up. I went in early February this year and there were quite a few to play with.The air is frosty-breath cold so a warm hat and coat are essential, as you’ll be cold once you are out of the water. The water is about waist deep in the main channel of the springs and deeper as you go further in; I was warm enough in a 5mm wetsuit.
We went with Birds Underwater and they were great (as was the delicious hot chocolate on their boat!). Birds explained that you have to be quiet and respectful of the manatees, to not separate pups from their mums and generally not splash around too much. They are wild animals (even if they seem to be very tame), and will go elsewhere and risk death by exposure if the springs become unpleasant for them.
The best interactions come when you are quiet and patient. One thing that amazed me is that they would recognize you! It’s hard even for us to recognize each other when we have mask & snorkel on, but they will recognize someone who gave a good scratch earlier in the day and come straight over to you (much to the annoyance of everyone else they swim past to get to you).
If you want to get involved in helping to protect these wonderful creatures, or for more info on them, head over to the save the manatee site.
And if possible, head over to Florida to meet them yourself!
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