Saturday, December 3, 2016

Swimming with Manatees at Homosassa Springs

Two manatees at Homosassa Springs

Last week instead of fighting the Black Friday crowds at the mall, Ron and decided to do something completely unique to Florida – swim with manatees. Although manatees look fat, they actually have very little body fat and can’t tolerate cold water. So in the winter months when the temperature of the Gulf of Mexico drops into the 60s, manatees make their way to the warmer waters of Crystal River and Homosassa Springs. Since it had been a warm November, I was a little worried that there wouldn’t be many manatees at the springs yet. But before we’d even finished launching our boat at the boat ramp, I spotted a couple swimming up the river. A good sign!

As soon as we anchored at the springs next to the Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, I pulled on my wet suit. Whew! I could still zip it up, even after our huge dinner the night before. :-)  I could see the log-shaped forms of manatees underwater near the observation deck and the occasional puff of air as they surfaced for a breath, so I headed in that direction. Before long, a big shadow appeared in front of me, and I stopped to see what it would do. Manatees are an endangered species so it is illegal to chase and swim after them. But they are gentle and curious animals, so if you float quietly in the water, they will often swim up to you. This manatee turned out to be one of the friendliest I’ve ever encountered. He was like a huge puppy, doing barrel rolls in the water and checking me out from different angles. Eventually another manatee decided to join the fun and the two of them said hello by rubbing noses.
 
By early afternoon, most of the manatees were ready to nap and started sinking to the river bottom in their typical face-plant sleeping position. So we pulled up the anchor and motored back down the river to The Freezer Tiki Bar. We shared an order of their signature steamed shrimp and ate outside in the sunshine. What an incredible day! We are so lucky to live in a state with such unique and amazing creatures.

Homosassa Springs

manatee

manatee rolling over

close up

two manatees

manatee kiss

manatee

manatee

snorkeling with a manatee

in the water

manatee sanctuary




Travel Tips:
Citrus County is the only place in Florida where it is legal to swim with manatees. Because they are an endangered species, be sure to follow all laws and regulations. Manatee viewing guidelines can be found on the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s website: http://m.myfwc.com/education/wildlife/manatee/viewing-guidelineshttp://m.myfwc.com/education/wildlife/manatee/viewing-guidelines.

If you are coming to the springs by boat, protect the manatees and yourself by obeying posted speed zones, wearing polarized sunglasses and displaying a dive flag when in the water.

You’ll want to wear a wet suit because the 70 degree water gets chilly pretty quickly. Wet suits also provide buoyancy so it’s easier to float on the surface.

Talk to the Manatee Watch volunteers that kayak daily at the springs. In addition to making sure that manatees are protected, they are a great source of information.

Adopt a manatee! The funds go towards manatee rescue, rehabilitation and research.

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