Swim with Manatees

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Florida Guide > Other Activities

Swim with Manatees

Everyone these days seems to be swimming with Dolphins, well why not do something that's different and not many people will get to do, Swim with Manatees. This type of interaction is frowned on by the Florida Marine Patrol everywhere else other than the two sites mentioned here.

Every winter the manatees gather in the warm water of springs and powerplants in Florida, and the topic of in-the-water interaction with these gentle sea creatures comes up. Most people think because of there protected status it is not possible to get close the manatees in the wild. However there are several easy ways for you to do this. There are two main areas to go to if you want to try this, the first is the Crystal River area on Florida's Gulf Coast and this is the best place to readily find manatees. It's the home of the largest natural manatee sanctuary, and the biggest herd of manatees in Florida. The local businesses have raised manatee encounters to a major industry, so you can still swim with manatees in this area of the state. Besides easy access to the manatees, you'll also get a lot of useful advice, on how to get the best out of your encounter. The second area is the Homosassa River and is potentially a better manatee viewing opportunity. Starting just below the Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park sanctuary markers, the river is shallow, sandy bottomed, and clear, so better photos are possible. Unless you have your own boat, however, it's not self guided, and tours are noticeably more expensive. Still, the chances for a great photo are better here. You need to remember that the spring itself is off limits.

The question is do you Scuba or snorkel? The water will be 72F, and the air usually colder still, so you will need the right equipment. This can be hired locally as this is a major industry here. The in-water interaction with manatees is usually carried out with mask, wet suit, and snorkel, and a small weight-belt or ankle weights. Usually, no fins are worn in the shallows, to avoid stirring up the silt, which can be a major problem. 

As manatees are an Endangered Species there are very strict 'Rules of Engagement'. The last count conducted January 2001 showed slightly over 3000 remain in the entire US. The law is very succinct, and the rangers are tough on anyone who breaks it. The law state that "It is unlawful for any person, at any time, by any means, intentionally or negligently, to annoy, molest, harass , or disturb any manatee." However it is still possible to have a close interaction by following the guidelines below. The manatees are not shy and will soon be swimming around you.

This is what you must not do

  • Do not approach the manatee before it approaches you.
  • Do not actively swim after, chase or corner a manatee.
  • Do not poke, probe, or stab a manatee with any object, including hands and feet.
  • Do not separate the cow from it's calf, or the calf from the cow.
  • Do not separate one animal from the herd.
  • Do not hook, hold, reach, grab or ride a manatee.
  • Do not feed or water the manatees. 

What do you do if the weather too cold to get wet, the children are too young for the in-water experience or you want to stay dry and you still want to see manatees underwater in their natural surroundings. Then you should take a trip inside the  Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park. They have an underwater observatory at the main springs with 8 resident manatees. They were rescued or born there, so now can't leave the park. Feeding time is at 4:00 p.m. and is a great time for photos. there are lectures throughout the day at the educational centre, and there is also a gift shop and restaurant. The park also shows much of Florida's wildlife including alligators, bobcats, bears, panthers bald eagles, spoonbills and ospreys. You will also find a movie star waiting to greet you, Lucifer the Hippo, star of a few Tarzan movies will add to your park visit.

Construction of the second phase of the Wildlife Walk at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park has been underway since March of 2002 and is now nearing completion. Park visitors already have access to the new boardwalks, rain shelters and overlooks and can see the park’s cougars and bobcats in their new habitats. The reptile exhibit, gopher tortoise habitat and bridge by the otters have been open since Spring 2003.

If your interested in history then the  Crystal River area was one of the longest continually inhabited sites by Native Americans in Florida, who lived there at least from 200BC through 1400 AD. This site was the most imposing prehistoric ceremonial centre on Florida's west coast. It's worthwhile to spend half a day seeing the burial mounds, temple mounds, middens, and stellae at this archaeological site and museum. you get there by going north on Highway 19 to the Day's Inn, turning left on State Park Road, and follow the signs.

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