Florida is a beautiful state with many opportunities that are not available elsewhere in the United States. Swimming with manatees, a large sea mammal, is one of those opportunities. Manatees are gentle giants that slowly roam oceans and rivers while consuming massive amounts of plant matter. Seeing this animal up close in their environment is a learning experience that you should not pass up.
There is much to know about the manatee, and much to gain from taking a tour in their environment. We will go over some basic manatee biology and provide you with some beginner tour tips along with some of the most popular manatee tour locations.
Manatees are large, lumbering marine mammals that can be found along coastlines and rivers. These gentle animals are known for being kind and harmless, which brings about their cute nickname, the sea cow.
There are three species of manatees in the world, but the West Indian manatee is the most common species found in Florida. West Indian manatees will be our focal point.
Hungry, Hungry Manatee
Manatees are herbivorous creatures with ravenous appetites that spend their day grazing plant matter at the bottom of the sea and rivers. Weighing in at 1,200-pounds, they have a lot of body mass to keep healthy and energized with their food. Weeds, algae, mangrove leaves, and water grasses are some choice favorites, and the manatee will eat about ten percent of their weight in a day.
West Indian manatees require fresh water to stay hydrated, so they often live on the cusp between fresh and salt waters.
Slow Travels Ahead
The manatee is a bulky beast that glides effortlessly across the ocean. Their large size and strong tails let them drift through the water at a typically slow pace of 5 miles per hour. Since they have no dangerous predators, they do not require speed; however, they can travel at 15 miles per hour in short bursts when needed.
Since manatees are mammals, they do require surface visits for oxygen. They do not leave the water to venture on land; however, they rise to the surface for air. Depending on their activity level, they can remain submerged for up to fifteen minutes.
One gulp of air can replace ninety percent of the air in their lungs. To put this in comparison, one breath for a human replaces about ten percent of the air in our lungs. That is a radical difference that allows the manatee to live happily in its underwater habitat.
We tend to see a large animal and assume that their bodies are made up of mostly fat. That is not the case with these glorious mammals. Manatee bodies are primarily made up of their stomach and intestines.
This means that they are not insulated well enough to maintain healthy body temperature in waters that are colder than 60-degrees.
River tributaries, where a river enters a larger body of water, attract manatees in cooler weather due to the warmth of the waters. Human power plants produce heat in the waters around them, and it is common for manatees to converge in these areas in cold temperatures.
Unfortunately, the biggest threat to the manatees’ survival is humans. Humans hunt these gentle creatures for their bones, oils, and hides. Less maliciously, yet more dangerous in today’s time, manatees face far more risk from boats and fishing nets.
Responsible tourism in the form of manatee tours can be beneficial for the manatees by bringing awareness to the threats that impact their lives. Passive observation tours are especially beneficial for educating the public on the lives of manatees. Ecotourism teaches people to respect animals while they survive in their habitats. This type of tourism is beneficial for manatees as well as the economy of those locations.
You may think that the manatee is closely related to other aquatic mammals like dolphins or whales, but that is not the case. These gentle giants are more closely related to elephants. Isn’t that cool?
Another interesting fact about manatees is that their teeth continuously grow and push out old teeth. This keeps their mouths happy and healthy.
One of the most amusing facts about manatees is that early explorers often mistook their silhouette in the waters as mermaids or female figures.
Florida Manatee Tours
Florida manatee tours are gaining popularity, especially as people want to learn more about the gentle and humble nature of these large animals. In Florida, many options are available for you to get in and experience the joy of seeing a manatee in their natural habitats.
This tour takes you to the warm waters of King’s Bay in Crystal River, Florida. There are several different packages available, so you can pick which one works best for you and your friends. More expensive packages will get you a smaller group, private tours, and snacks and beverages to get you through the adventure.
Captain Mike’s team makes sure that the animals’ welfare is considered first and foremost and reminds you that this is a wildlife encounter – so, take it seriously and be cautious.
Snorkeling and swimming with manatees are just one of the activities Captain Mike offers. There are also observation-only tours, which are most beneficial to the humble sea cows. That’s not all, though. They also have boat tours, hiking trips, and a variety of water sports.
Take a pontoon boat out on the river and snorkel with the manatees as they go about their day. Learn all about their habits, evolution, and life while watching them survive in their natural environment. Since manatees tend to dislike the bubbles produced by scuba diving, these snorkel adventures create a much more relaxed and soothing experience for the manatee as well.
Swimming alongside one of these large mammals is a life experience that you will treasure for a lifetime. If you plan, you can get a reservation that allows you to go home with a cool underwater video produced on a DVD of your experience.
A variety of tours are offered through the Crystal River Manatee Tour and Dive. Boat tours and solo tours on kayaks and canoes are available along with longer 2-hour tours for those wanting to spend more time in the water.
Fun 2 Dive also offers manatee tours in the Crystal River. The package price includes everything that you will need to embark upon this amazing journey into the home of the manatee. No up-charge will be tacked onto your bill for parking or gear; it is included in your package.
The professional guide that goes along on this journey will take spectacular photographs along the way. Those photos can be purchased afterward. Each tour comes with its own set of benefits and perks, so make sure that you review your options and book the tour that is best for you and your group. Each tour is approximately 3-hours, giving you plenty of time to learn about manatees, their environment, and explore the area.
Manatee Diving Tips
All right. You know all about manatees and their basic lifestyle. You know about tours and the possibility of swimming alongside one of these majestic animals. Now, let’s go over some important tips to know when diving with manatees.
Increase Your Viewing Chances
You want to increase the chances that you will see as many manatees as possible, right? It is recommended to go when it is colder outside since cool weather draws them together. Meanwhile, weekends have large crowds of people that can draw them away, so you will do better to book a weekday tour. Also, manatees are most active in the morning, so heading out early is a good idea.
Respect the Manatee
These are wild animals that are allowing you to swim in their home. Respect them by looking and observing them from a distance. Mind your manners and do not be excessively noisy or splash around.
Do not touch unless you are sure that is what the manatee wants. Your tour captain will understand their body language and help you.
Stay Out of Sanctuaries When On Manatee Tours
Do not enter areas that are designated as manatee sanctuaries. These glorious creatures deserve areas where they can escape and remove themselves from areas that make them agitated or uncomfortable. This is for your safety as well as theirs.
Do Not Litter
Make sure to bring out everything that you brought in with you. This includes bottles, fishing gear, and other trash.
The sea cow is a magnificent animal with a history of making humans happy – whether in the form of a mythical mermaid creature or in the form of modern ecotourism. Glide along with them while they eat. Observe their behavior and time them as they go up for air and back down again.
Learning about such a marvelous animal in their environment is the adventure of a lifetime.