How to Get Up Close and Personal With Manatees

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You love to see animals in the wild, right? Perhaps it’s time for you to hang out with giants!

Yes, giants. They exist.

At a length of 13 feet and a weight of up to 1,200 pounds, manatees are giants—and a depiction of power, strength and grace. And the good news is that you can get up close and personal with them in the wild.

You want to know where?

Crystal River—a city in Citrus County, Florida, United States

Situated around Kings Bay, which is spring-fed and keeps a constant 72 degree temperature year round, Crystal River is at the heart of Florida’s Nature Coast.
With its cluster of 50 springs—Crystal River Springs being the second largest group of fresh water springs in Florida—it is home to over 400 manatees in the winter. In fact, it is only here where you can legally swim with the giant mammals in their natural aquatic habitat.

When the Gulf of Mexico cools and the temperature becomes undesirable for manatees, they migrate to Kings Bay. Sea cows are susceptible to cold-related disease and move to warm water refuge areas in winter for survival.

That is why in winter, typically November through March, manatees are primarily concentrated in Florida. But there are also resident manatees in Crystal River so there is no time of the year when you can’t have fun with the animals.

Manatees are fairly solitary and do not usually gather in groups. You will probably find them grazing alone, traveling in pairs or occasionally as many as six together. Although preferring solitude, they may stick together to share food sources or warm water—like in the springs during cold months.

Why swim with manatees?

Swimming with manatees is a soothing and delightful activity. Whether you get in the water with them or just watch them swim around, you will notice that they are quite unpredictable and awe-inspiring. They move around somewhat clumsily, but make beautiful shapes in the water. You will also love how they body surf or barrel roll with ease and grace.

With a horizontally placed diaphragm for breathing, manatees are able to control their buoyancy and movement in water. They can suspend themselves in like floats and relax. But they can also move up and down in the water and surface every 3-5 minutes to breathe. That’s interesting to watch, considering how big they are. In a sense, their movement is like a choreographed dance, and watching them is pleasant and relaxing.

Being up close with manatees in their habitat is calming and relieves stress. You will love how they care for their young—a reminder that they are quite capable and intelligent. Rarely are they in a rush, usually moving at an average of 3-5 miles per hour when they can actually swim up to 20 miles per hour when necessary.

Their eyes, too, will leave you in awe. They close in a circular manner, like a camera. And you might even notice that some have algae on their body, which does not hurt them and in fact protects them from the sun.

One way or another, as you watch the manatees make their every move, you will remain captivated by their size, shape and contours. Prepare to forget about your troubles and relish every moment. What a fun way to restore a sense of wellbeing!

So how do you get to swim with the manatees?

For a close and personal view of these gentle giants, you will probably have to get up early and be ready to get wet. Your tour may leave as early as 6:00 in the morning, but the boats are enclosed, warm and have a changing room.

There will be a mandatory video to watch before departure in order to learn the rules for interacting with the animals. The rules are simple, clear and strict—basically, just let them come to you. After they are spotted, captains will reduce the speed of the boat to approach slowly. They will then dive into the water before inviting visitors to join in.

The experience is awesome, but you should not get carried away. Remember to keep your distance, float near the surface of the water, and watch them move languidly as they raise their heads to have a better look at you. If you allow them their space, snorkel gently, speak quietly and just let them come to you, you will have an incredible experience.

For a wonderful experience with manatees, you should:

  • Give the animals space and let them come to you.
  • Use snorkel gear and float near the surface. This will allow manatees to come to you.
  • Swim quietly without kicking your feet or splashing the water. Noise and increased activity may startle resting sea cows and put them in harm’s way should they get frightened and suddenly flee the area.
  • Underwater, keep your feet off the sandy bottom to maintain good visibility and prevent excess debris from swirling around.

Things you should not do:

  • Don’t use scuba gear. It creates bubbles and the sound scares away manatees.
  • Don’t touch manatees. If called for, you can only pet them with one open hand.
  • Don’t give them water and don’t feed them.
  • Don’t poke, prod or stab a manatee with your feet, hands or any objects.
  • Don’t chase or pursue a manatee for a better view.
  • Don’t hold, ride or step on a manatee.
  • Don’t swim down on a manatee.
  • Don’t isolate or separate a manatee from the rest of a group. Neither should you separate a calf from its mother.

At Captain Mike’s Swimming with the Manatees, we adore these animals and would like to have you share our appreciation and sense of wonder. We arrange manatee tours that not only assure you of the opportunity for an incredible experience, but also instill a love for manatees and a desire to protect them. You will be on the river with our warm and friendly crew for 3-5 hours and we bet your tour will be spectacular and memorable. For more information on manatee tours, visit the 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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