This weekend, we took Nico to swim with the manatees in Crystal River. During the winter, when it gets “cold” in Florida, manatees like to go to King’s Bay and Crystal River because the water stays “warm” pretty much year round. So during the winter, when the gulf and the ocean are cold, they go to Crystal River to warm up. And in the summer, they go back out to the gulf to cool off.
We rented a boat and were on the water by about 930 or 1000. My mom came up from Ft. Myers to hang out with Nico (before the big move to Chicago). We took the boat to the further of the places where we could see the manatees. There are some pretty strict rules about what you can and can’t do with the manatees. But they have a special area near santuaries where you can snorkel. Theoretically if you are there, the manatees can come right up to you. But, you’re not supposed to chase them and you are not supposed to harass them. And if they go back into their sanctuary, you’re supposed to let them go.
Dave got into the water first, with the idea that I’d help Nico into the water and join them. Well, the boy got on the ladder and decided, “um, no.” To be fair, the water was really cold. I mean, I don’t drink water that cold. So, I helped Nico back into the boat and went to get in myself. And for the first minute after I got in, I thought, “I have made a horrible mistake. This water is too cold.” But then I warmed up and it was fine. I understand why manatees were on the endangered species list. They have no fear of humans. One came right up to the boat and stuck his face out of the water at Nico, which was awesome. While we were in the water, they came right up to us. In fact, one headbutted Dave in the chest. I was mostly worried about being between a manatee that was trying to get back into the sanctuary and the little fence boundary thing that was up. I didnt want the park ranger to get me (you get fined a crap ton of money for harassing a manatee- which would have been the exact opposite of what I was trying to do). I also, legitimately, did not want to annoy a manatee. Seriously, their life isn’t hard enough as it is? They gotta deal with me and my awkward swimming and inability to use a snorkel? So, I was just trying to not annoy anyone (manatee, park ranger, fellow swimmer).
So a manatee came up to me and I just put my hand on him, mostly to let him know I was there. I didnt want to spook or startle him. They have the coolest feeling skin… so, not smooth, but not rough. It was cool. Another came up a little while later and rolled over onto his back. Like a dog. And I rubbed his belly!! It was pretty much amazing.
We went back to the boat to get the boy. He decided that he was ready to go, so we swam him out to area where you could see the manatees (next to the sanctuary). Now, if you have never had the pleasure of snorkeling with a three year old in cold water, let me tell you: it’s every bit as awesome as you would expect it to be. He kicked a flipper off, so we had to take them both off. His mask was weird. His snorkel was weird. He was cold. You know the drill. About half way there, we found some rocks to stand on, so that we could take a breath and get him situated. It was also a great place to rest until manatees came back.
One comes in right around the time that Nico is starting to be done with the whole expedition. He had did pet one, but wasn’t really that impressed. I think he was cold and over the whole thing. We’re in the water treading, the boy floating between us when Nico says LOUDLY, “I think I am standing on a rock!!” He wasn’t. The manatee had swam below us in the water and had came up, right under Nico. My son was standing on a manatee. My son was pretty much doing all the things that you are not supposed to do with a manatee. Standing on a manatee, like he was at SeaWorld in a show. It was awesome.
Hopefully no one will read this and arrest my son (apparently people can get arrested for harassing manatees). I guess I could do jail time for this. I mean, if I can’t do a stint in the big house for my son, who would I do time for? In any case, it was a lot of fun. I’m glad that we did this with him. I hope it becomes one of those memories for him where he doesn’t know if it is because he has seen pictures of it or because he actually remembers it. In any case, manatees are so quintessentially Florida. It seems fitting that now this Florida girl’s days in Florida are numbered that we would finally get a chance to do this.