I totally swam with manatees. Dude, let me tell you, it was awesome and surreal. It is completely in the wild, not a tank or enclosed area, so even seeing a manatee, let alone swimming with one, is not a guaranteed or even a likely scenario. Worst still, summer is the low season for manatee populations in the area, so there were an estimated 20 or so manatees in the bay rather than the 600 or more in the high season.
However, not only did we see one, we saw and swam with several. Unfortunately, the manatees were swimming in the super murky part of the bay (visibility was 5 feet at best) rather than the super clear water near the spring, but I’m not complaining. After swimming with and encountering them, I can tell you manatees are super skittish, curious and completely adorable. Their skin is surprisingly rough; more like an elephant’s than a dolphin’s. And they loved to be scratched. Oh how they love it. One in particular came over, so we started scratching her back and she loved it. And just like a dog, she rolled over so we could scratch her belly too. (You can hear my wife laughing through her snorkel at that point in the video.)
Some tips if you are thinking about doing this (and you totally should). This is the dive shop we went through – Crystal Lodge Dive Shop. Good dudes, respectful of the animals and their habitat and fair prices. Also, the best day to go is on Wednesday. Again, manatees are super skittish and weekend water traffic tends to scare them off, so middle of the week is prime time for low people traffic and high manatee traffic. And finally remember, this is an endangered, wild species, so be respectful and obey all the rules set up to protect them (and you).
[youtube width=”550″ height=”445″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t01bG9Vseu0[/youtube]