I’ve seen manatees. I’ve come nose to nose with them through the window of an underwater observatory. I must admit to being just the tiniest bit obsessed with manatees at this point. So of course, the only logical next step was to swim with the manatees.
Although manatees have been known to range as far west as Texas and as far north as Virginia in the warmer summer months, most live in the coastal waters of Florida and nearby states. However in colder months, they retreat to the rivers and springs because they cannot tolerate water temperatures lower than 68 degrees. Florida springs are favorite wintering grounds for manatees because the water temperature is 72 degrees year-round, and since Florida’s Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge supports the largest concentration of these gentle giants, the town of Crystal River was my destination.
I arranged for a half-day boat trip with Wayne White, a semi-retired captain and professional photographer who still takes the occasional visitor in search of manatees. Captain White had everything I needed: goggles, snorkel, fins, wetsuit – even spf 50 sunblock. The only thing I had to bring was a swimsuit and $55. After watching a mandatory video about the laws that have been enacted to protect manatees (thou shalt not, at any time, intentionally or negligently, annoy, molest, harass or disturb any manatee), I boarded Captain White’s pontoon boat from a dock behind the Kings Bay Inn. Continue reading