Where can I swim with manatees?

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They may not be as agile as dolphins or as strong as whales, but manatees are large, adorable and harmless creatures that are delightful to interact with. And with their curiosity, you’re never going to have a more remarkable animal experience than swimming with manatees. The wrinkled, slow-moving creatures will glide slowly toward you, using their paddle-like tails to propel themselves up and down, steering their 12-foot-long bodies gracefully through the water. So as they spin up and around you, snuffling and going about their in-water rounds like massive zeppelins with whiskers, just swim and enjoy the moment allowing the animals to do what they want to do.

So where can you swim with the manatees?

Although manatees are found all over Florida, the only place you are legally allowed to get into the water and swim with them is Citrus County. Located on the Gulf Coast, about 2 hours northwest of Orlando and 90 minutes north of Tampa, Citrus County boasts a large number of manatees and its economy is largely dependent on manatee tourism. Even with environmental protection laws that otherwise prohibit swimming with the sea cows, Citrus County allows getting into the water and snorkeling with the animals.

Manatee encounters are offered in two Citrus County towns — Homosassa and Crystal River. The headwaters of Crystal River is Kings Bay, where the temperature of water is a constant 72 degrees all-year and where, in winter, more than 400 manatees migrate to escape the cold waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Some of them do stay in the bay through summer months. It is also in Crystal River that you find the Three Sisters Springs, a natural spring with the clearest water where manatees congregate during the coldest months. You only need to kayak or take a boat tour of the springs to see these lovable creatures.

What time of the year should you embark on a manatee tour?

January and February are the best months for a manatee tour, but you also can take the tour at any time in fall (November and December) and winter (January through March). Because manatees do not have any blubber and can’t thermo-regulate, they go searching for warmer water when the water in the Gulf of Mexico dips below 64 degrees. Citrus County has hundreds of natural springs such as Kings, Jurassic, Magnolia and Hunter springs that feed the bay. Between November and April, Citrus County attracts the highest concentration of manatees in the world — with about 850 manatees out of the 6,500 statewide population congregating in Kings Bay.

How should you conduct yourself in a manatee habitat?

One of the most remarkable animal experiences you can have is swimming with manatees in Crystal River, Fla. To be able to snorkel with these incredible animals up close is wonderful. But whatever you do and no matter how excited you are, you should always remember the three golden rules of swimming with manatees: Minimize splash noise, make slow movements and touch only with one hand at a time. You can only touch a manatee if it touches you first, but using two hands is illegal. There is also no chasing, no harassing and no riding the animals.

You should embark on a swim with manatee tour only after mastering the rules of interacting with the animals. The sea cows are heavily protected by law and learning manatee encounter rules and tips will ensure that you avoid a hefty fine and have the best experience. Manatees are naturally social and curious. They will initiate interaction with you, so the rules will not diminish your experience. Swim and enjoy the moment while allowing the manatees to do what they want to do.

At Captain Mike’s, we offer manatee encounter and snorkel tours designed to deliver the most delightful and memorable experience. Everything begins at our full-service tour facility where we provide manatee education, passive observation tips and the ins and outs of snorkeling with the animals. From the outset, you’ll treasure the fact that you are able to learn more about them, their environment and the right way to interact with them.

You’ll wear a wetsuit and be transported to the dock to embark on your trip in a pontoon boat. Throughout the journey, the estuary with its numerous birds, fish and wildlife will amaze you. You have the option of going on a private, semi-private or public tour. We also offer kayaks and canoes you can rent if you want to guide your own tour. For more information about manatee tours in Crystal River, Fla., 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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