Crystal River's Manatees

By: Terry Tomalin


The January/February issue of Sport Diver Magazine included Crystal River’s manatees in a wrapup of The Planet’s Best Big Animals.

The winter months are the time to see these critters. Here's some information and a few tips to make the most of the experience of seeing manatees:

Manatees spend about one-third of their day eating, one-third sleeping and one-third socializing with other manatees.

These animals have distinct personalities. Some like humans; others don't. Be aware of this in the water. If a manatee swims away, don't chase it.

Give the manatee some space. If one does approach and you feel the urge to pet it, resist, because it is a fine line that separates a stroke from a poke. And whatever you do, don't grab it or hold it.

Manatees share a common ancestry with the elephant and every day consume 10 to 15 percent of their body weight - which typically reaches about 1,000 pounds. So where there are aquatic plants, there are manatees.

Crystal River has plenty of vegetation to satisfy their hunger. So don't feed the manatees. And while the little ones may be cute, don't try to separate a calf from its mother, or an individual from the herd.

Manatees don't mind water temperatures that would be chilly for most Floridians. On the other hand, you might the 72-degree water in the springs refreshing.

If you plan to spend any time in the water, wear a wet suit. Bring your own or rent one at one of the local dive shops. You'll be more comfortable -- and more patient.

A standard mask and snorkel, available at most sporting goods stores for less than $50, is ideal. Bring along a towel and some hot coffee or cocoa for after your swim, because even in a wet suit, you are still bound to get chilly. But the rewards are worth the effort.

When you first enter the water, it's easy to become overwhelmed by the size of these gentle giants. Don't panic -- they won't hurt you. Relax, float on the surface and enjoy the experience. The calmer you are the more likely a manatee might swim over.

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