Amazing Things to Do in FloridaCredit: Public Domain
Have you ever wanted to swim with 1200 pounds of fins, blubber, tail, and adorable snout? Well you can do just that if you go snorkeling with manatees. Swimming with these animals is not something everyone gets to do, but if you have the chance, take it. Being up close and personal with an animal so much bigger than you is an experience of a lifetime.
What the Manatees Are Like
Manatees are over a thousand pounds of docile herbivore. These sweet "sea cows" live in a specific part of Florida, in the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean waters. Although Florida law prevents you from actively seeking out the manatees, if one comes up to an outstretched hand, you are permitted to touch them. They are curious creatures. Some of them will swim by, but not get close enough to touch. Some of them will check you out and then come back. A lot of the manatees seem to really enjoy being around people and even love to have their bellies rubbed. In a lot of ways the playful manatees are like puppies.
Manatees only move about three to five miles per hour; they don't swim very fast. Although there have been accounts of manatees swimming up to twenty miles per hour in short busts. At first it can be nerve-wracking to be so close to something so much bigger than you. However, as you stay in the water and become part of their surroundings, you acclimate to the size difference.
Go In the Cooler Months If Possible
Manatees like warm water. From mid-April to late October they live in the open ocean feeding on many kinds of freshwater and saltwater plants. However, these don't grow as well in the winter. The manatees will swim into warmer canals in Crystal River and around Apollo Beach, where you can find a manatee viewing center. They park themselves in the warmer canals here, leaving everyday to eat, only to go back to the rivers and canals again.
If you plan to snorkel during this time of the year, you might see hundreds of manatees. Early-late November is probably the best time to go. However, make sure that you have a wetsuit as the water can get very cold here. You'll also want to have a set of flippers and a good pair of goggles.Credit: Victoria DeLone
How Does This Work?
If you are near Crystal River, there are practically countless companies that will give you the proper gear, transportation, and guidance in order to swim with these creatures. Or if you are traveling in the summer, there are plenty of tour guides who would be willing to take you out and help you find manatees to swim with. However, you won't see as many. You may not even see one as it depends on the day. But Crystal River is a beautiful manatee sanctuary and there's more to do than see the manatees. You can paddle board, kayak, or hike trails near the river.
Manatees are more amazing the more you learn about them. Unfortunately, due to boat propellers, red tides, fishing hooks and lines, and manatee harassment, these animals are on the "endangered" list. Each of the three species of manatees are all classified as endangered. The more you appreciate these creatures, the more you'll want to protect them. Whether you want to view the manatees at Apollo Beach or get the chance swim with them, be respectful of these animals and happy swimming!