Today I swam with manatees.
This not a very interesting sentence. Now, if I had said, “Today I swam with dolphins’ that would be a more interesting sentence, and more people would feel compelled to read more. But I did not swim with dolphins today. I swam with manatees.
Now, I did not especially want to swim with manatees. It was not an activity that crossed my mind very often. I know that I’ve gone weeks without manatees peeking into my thoughts. To me, they weren’t a very interesting animal. The only thing I really knew about manatees was that Larry sung about them on Veggietales.
This morning I got up at 5:00. This is after an eight-hour drive day and a time change that makes it an hour later than it feels. So I wasn’t really thrilled to be getting up early. I got dressed in my bathing suit, and the happiness about that (I like swimming and bathing suits mean I am going swimming) woke me up just fine.
We got to River Ventures around 6:00, with our experience starting at 6:15. When that time rolled around, we were sent into a room that contained our group. Besides us, there was a family of four from Canada, and an older couple.
We watched a short video about manatees, explaining how to act around manatees, and how to pet them, which we heard a second time from our tour guide ten minutes later.
When the movie was done and we got our wetsuits on, we were schlepped into a van and taken to the bay, where we met our tour guide, Captain Mike Birns.
We loaded onto a boat and were told where the life preservers were, how they worked, and how we were supposed to act in the case of an accident. Thankfully, no accident occurred.
During the ride to the springs, Captain Mike told jokes and relayed interesting facts about the area we were in, and the manatees everyone had come to see.
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Upon reaching the springs, Captain Mike spent several minutes discussing the snorkeling gear. He showed us how to put it on, how to make sure it was fitted properly, and how to use the snorkel. Then he jumped into the water.
We were the last people off the boat. It was still very cold (a whopping’ 51 degrees with no sun) and I knew that either the water was going to be freezing cold, or it was going to be pleasantly warm. Thankfully, it was the latter.
I started down the ladder and looked out on the water. Captain Mike smiled at me and said, “Hey sweetheart. Come on. It’s okay, come on out to me.” I swam to him and he asked if I wanted to hold onto him for a little while until I got used to my snorkeling gear. I accepted, since I knew that I would get tired in the water very easily and a lift on the start would help.
Our group neared a wildlife sanctuary where the manatees rested without being bothered by the tourists. I could hear everyone oohing and aahing over how beautiful and wonderful the manatees were. I let go of Captain Mike and went under to see if I could see any. He pointed a mama and her baby out to me, and I was astonished at the size of the gigantic creatures. They were the size of Remmy without legs.
I came up smiling, and saw them just a couple minutes later, when the baby was nursing.
Our group followed Captain Mike to the ‘Three Sisters’, a group of springs. There was Deep Sister, Shallow Sister, and Middle Sister. In Deep Sister, Captain Mike pointed out some wood sticking up out of the silt that was the remains of a cage that a manatee was put into for rehabilitation.
During the long swim to the ‘Three Sisters’, I was amazed with how long I could keep my face in the water with my snorkeling gear on. I loved looking around at the manatees, and the fish, and everything the river flow brought my way. At one point in Deep Sister, I swam until I almost over a big school of fish and watched them for a little while until the splashing of some members of our group dispersed them.
Captain Mike took pictures of us and the other family in Deep Sister, and then we headed back out to see some more manatees and use the bathroom on the boat.
When I was done using the bathroom, I found Harrison the boat. He told me that he was going to stay on the boat since he was so cold. I was shivering too, but I went back in the water for two reasons. One, because I wanted to see more manatees, and two, because the water was warmer than the air. I was visibly shaking, and I think my mom was a little concerned for me, but she stayed on the boat with Harrison, so it was just me and Daddy who went back.
The manatees were being friendly, and Captain Mike took pictures of them while we prayed and hoped that they would come closer to us.
One of the manatees came out of the sanctuary and came up to get air. As he brought his nose back under water, he saw me and I made eye contact with him like Captain Mike had told us to. His muzzle was darker then the rest of him and whiskery, giving him a adorably curious look, like he was up to some mischief and wanted to share it with me and make me laugh. The manatee watched me and slowly came over to where I was floating. I put my hand on him and petted him. He felt like a wet smooth-barked palm tree with moss on it, if you can imagine that. (Afterward, my dad told me that he saw someone getting some good petting time with a manatee and felt proud when he noticed that it was me.)
The boy from the family from Canada saw me petting the manatee and how calm the manatee seemed to be, and he came over to pet the manatee as well. I had to back away at this point, because I didn’t want to accidentally hit the boy with my feet or arms as I was petting, and the manatee was trying to get in a better position for both of us and crowding me.
That manatee was the only manatee I petted, but two others passed very close by me while on a mission to get air, including a calf. It was almost as cool as petting a manatee, to see a big giant pass fearlessly within three feet of you.
Whenever I looked under the water, it was like a whole ‘nother world. I couldn’t hear anything except the quiet squeaking of the manatees as they talked to each other. Everything was peaceful and serene. I could live in that world as long as I focused on puckering my lips right around the air tube and didn’t make any weird face contortions that would leave a gap in my face mask, allowing water to seep in. The fish swam around as if no danger was nearby, feeding off of the green growth on the manatees as they slept on the river bottom.
We got back on the boat, and I was very cold. But being cold was the only bad thing about this experience. I would say that swimming with manatees is my second favorite thing I’ve done in my life, only behind living at Farhaven.
So, if you ever get the chance to swim with manatees, don’t pass it up. It might not be as popular as swimming with dolphins, but I’m sure it’s totally as awesome.