Guidelines for Swimming With Manatees

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Snorkeling with manatees is a delightful and memorable experience. But as a visitor in their home, you should remember that manatees are endangered wild creatures. They do not live in a petting zoo or amusement park. You are there to experience their charm without harming them, and the best way to spend time with them is to respect their right to decide when to interact with you.

The following guidelines apply during manatee tours:

1. Get in the water with minimal disturbance

For in-water activities, use snorkeling gear and float at the surface. You must avoid scuba gear or other devices that produce a sound that can cause manatees to leave the area. When you enter the water, do so as slowly and as quietly as possible, making sure to limit the amount of splashing.

Excessive noise and splashing may startle sleeping manatees and put them in harm’s way if they feel frightened enough to leave the area quickly. A wetsuit made of high-quality material will make it easier for you to float near the surface and observe the manatees with least amount of disturbance.

2. Observe the manatees passively

Passive observation is the approach of letting manatees make the first move. Once in the water, you should wait patiently for a manatee to approach you. Do not try to initiate contact; instead, leave everything up to the manatees.

You should never chase, follow or swim to a manatee, and never harass or wake a sleeping manatee. Sea cows are naturally curious and enjoy interacting with humans, so if you wait patiently, they are likely to approach you.

3. Avoid touching manatees

It is a privilege to be with manatees in their natural habitat. But you should always remember that these animals are in the wild, and they are not there for your amusement. When out on a manatee tour, you should not expect to touch them. Keep your hands and objects to yourself, and look at them without attempting to touch.

If a manatee engages with you, you may touch the animal with one open hand. Having two hands on a manatee is called “riding” the animal and is forbidden. At Captain Mike’s, we encourage passive observation as we have found that the less you touch the animals the longer they hang out with you.

4. Be nice to manatees

Never try to snag, hook, hold, grab, pinch, poke, prod, stab, hit, or ride a manatee. Keep your feet, hands and all objects away from the them. If a manatee avoids you, do not chase or pursue the animal for a closer view. Give them the space to move around and never try to corner, isolate, or single out an individual manatee from its group, or take a calf from its mother. Do not feed or give water to a manatee—the danger in this seemingly harmless act is that the animal may get accustomed to people, change its behavior in the wild, lose its natural fear of humans and boats, and become susceptible to harm.

5. Keep off manatee lawns

Manatees are herbivores and almost exclusively eat sea grasses. Areas designated as sanctuaries help maintain manatee food sources and are off-limits to swimmers. These areas are roped off and not accessible to the public. While a rope may not appear like a huge barrier, you will be fined if you dare cross it. So stay out of the sanctuaries as a sign of respect to manatee space and to avoid an unnecessary fine.

Likewise, you should not disturb manatees that are on the stream or river bottom where they sleep and rest. Though their resting position may appear odd to you, it is quite comfortable to them. Just leave them alone.

6. Don’t harass manatees

Manatees are imperiled species protected from harm and harassment by state and federal law, including the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, the Endangered Species Act of 1973, and the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act of 1978. These laws primarily define harassment as any activity that may alter the natural behavior of the animals and further endanger them.

When convicted under state law for harassing a manatee, you could pay a fine of up to $500 and get a jail sentence of up to 60 days. But when convicted under federal law for harming one of these amazing creatures, you could pay a fine of up to $50,000 and spend up to one year in prison. In addition to actually harming a manatee, feeding and giving them water is construed as harassment. Avoid harassing the animals so you don’t get on the wrong side of the law.

Why take your manatee tour with us?

At Captain Mike’s Swimming with the Manatees, we take manatees seriously. We are huge supporters of animal-friendly environments and manatee-sensitive practices. When you go on manatee tours with us, we make sure you understand and follow these guidelines. And we reserve the right to return you to the shore immediately if you do not follow the rules.

Our guides are trained and knowledgeable about the federal and state laws that protect manatees. They will explain to you how to swim near a manatee, when not to swim over one (sleeping), and other tips to make your excursion a fun and safe activity. We encourage you to follow their guidelines to have a wonderful encounter with the sea giants. For more information on manatees and manatee tours, visit Captain Mike’s Swimming with the Manatees website.

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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