Can you get in the water with manatees?

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Swimming with manatees can be a thrilling, memorable and life-changing experience. At Crystal River, Fl., you can get into the water and enjoy being with these friendly and loving creatures, having a great time out with your family, friends or colleagues. But is getting into the water and swimming with the lumbering sea cows good for the animals?

Lawsuit Threat

This is the question that a group called Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) has threatened to take to court for determination. The group has written to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service threatening to sue them for allowing people to enter manatee habitats and swim with the endangered species. The Fish and Wildlife Service has been given until May to respond to the letter.
According to Laura Dumais, the counsel for PEER, swimming with manatee programs greatly disrupt the behavior of the animals, including feeding, sheltering and breeding patterns, which may in turn lead to dangerous manatee habits such as opting to brave the deadly cold waters of the gulf to avoid the trouble and commotion caused by crowds of swimmers in the warm springs.

“People love the manatees a lot and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has let this affection turn into a lucrative tourism industry that may hurt the animals in the long run,” said Dumais.
“While some people may not see how swimming with the manatees can impair the long-term behavior of animals, as they do not see the manatees keel over before their eyes and may think the manatees do not mind, some manatees actually stay away from the crowded springs to avoid humans interference,” she added.

Manatee Success Story

However, according to the management of Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, the manatees actually do not mind and have grown in numbers significantly despite increased human presence and activity in the water channels of Crystal River.

“The manatee is a huge success story,” said Andrew Gude, the manager of the refuge.
“The numbers are rising; the population of manatees is growing tremendously despite the massive growth in manatee tours. In fact, for just $40, you can get into the water and swim with the manatees, enjoying an experience of a lifetime,” he added.

In the latest survey, Florida manatees have hit a record 6,000, a number that is about 1,000 animals more than the previous high. In fact, the numbers have increased to the point that some people are calling on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to downgrade manatee classification under the Endangered Species Act from the endangered category (which began in 1973) to threatened. A review that might allow this downgrade is still in the draft stage.

Increased Manatee Tours

With the increased numbers of manatees, more people are touring Crystal River to see and swim with the manatees, particularly at this time of the year when the cold-sensitive animals escape water channels with temperatures below 68 degrees and move to warm springs. Thousands of tourists rush to the areas where the manatees congregate to see or touch them and engage in water activities such as rafting, kayaking, scuba diving, boating and freestyle swimming. For instance, the Crystal River refuge received 327,000 tourists last year, ranking as the fifth most visited destination in the United States, with manatees as the main attraction.

Enhanced Protection Measures

As more people stream into Florida to have a good time with the lovable manatees, the narrow swimming channels used by manatees to enter and leave the springs get blocked, forcing some manatees to stay away from the springs to avoid the commotion. This is what PEER wants addressed. PEER is concerned that increased human traffic in the refuge will compel more manatees to stay in the open gulf and even die in the cold waters as they try to avoid the heavy human traffic in Crystal River springs.
“It is the manatee behavior that we do not see that is problematic,” Dumais said. “We are worried about the manatees that do not enter the springs when there are crowds of swimmers in there because they may behave in ways that may endanger their lives.”

While the refuge has not completely banned human contact with the animals as proposed by PEER, certain actions have been taken to protect them. For instance, the sanctuary is closed completely to humans during times of extreme cold when manatees need to use it the most. Likewise, the area where humans are prohibited has been expanded, ensuring that more manatees avoid human contact. Furthermore, any smallest infraction against the manatees is severely punished to deter humans from hurting these gentle mammals.

So as we wait for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to respond to PEER or for the court action that may follow their response, it is still possible to get in the water and swim with manatees. At Captain Mike’s Swimming with the Manatees, we work with tourists to plan and embark on memorable tours. We have experienced captains and guides who ensure that interactions with manatees do not endanger the animals or interfere with their habitats. If you are thinking of going out to see these gentle giants, then come plan and embark on your tour with us. For more information, visit the “Captain Mike’s Swimming with the Manatees” site.


Swimming with the Manatees boasts the best water adventure in Crystal River, Florida with lots of things to do for you and your family. For more information, contact us online, or call us at (352) 571-1888.

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