Playing with sea cows thrilling, and educational
By Tonya Upton, Guest columnist
EDITORS NOTE: Tonya has relocated from North Florida and but still enjoys discovering Florida while constantly living in a day trip adventure mode.
The West Indian Manatee found along the Florida coastal areas and canals are gentle, curious, friendly creatures that are docile and harmless. And I was on a Gainesville Lunch Out Blog Day Trip to swim with the manatees.
Tis' the season to swim with Manatees. During the winter months manatees migrate into the Crystal River by the hundreds seeking the protection of its warm water springs. Crystal River boasts the largest concentration of Manatees in the US, and that's great for us in Gainesville because Crystal River is so close to Gainesville. People travel great distances, from all over the world, to experience an up close and personal moment with these endangered mammals and all we have is a 90 minute day trip for our own exciting adventure.
West Indian manatees are large, gray aquatic mammals with bodies that taper to a flat, paddle-shaped tail. They have two forelimbs, called flippers, with three to four nails on each flipper. Their head and face are wrinkled with whiskers on the snout.
My past experiences with manatees is from my childhood growing up in Cape Coral in the canals and rivers of S. Florida. Anytime I have been close to the waters edge and spotted a manatee in the wild I get a happy feeling inside, but to have the opportunity to get into the water and play with them was one of the most wonderful moments I have ever experienced.
My daughter and her friend went with us and there was pure joy coming from these girls while spending time in the water with the manatees. I cannot say I have ever seen this much excitement out of the kids at a theme park and my daughter is an avid roller coaster rider. Aside from the fun factor of this day trip it felt good knowing this was not just fun, but educational for the kids, and me.
We did not know what to expect the morning we left home and drove to River Ventures Manatee Experience for our manatee tour.
When we arrived a very friendly River Ventures Customer Assistant Brandie Wooten greeted us. It was almost like Brandie's sole purpose in life is to make sure you have the best possible experience you could have while on your manatee adventure.
The River Ventures facility is nice, they provide complimentary coffee, hot chocolate, donuts, and a variety of complimentary snacks. After you grab your coffee you are required to go into one of their education rooms where they play a short video on what to do, and what not to do during your personal manatee interaction.
The information covered was simple, common sense behavior in respect to the manatees. Things like do not chase them, be patient while in the water, let the manatees swim to you because they are equally curious about you.
After the video and open question and answer session the training was over. River venture staffers they helped us get the right size wet suits on and off we went to our boat and the River Venture swimming area.
Our guide was captain Mike, he was fantastic at connecting the two worlds of human friend and friendly mammal together. It is a fine art to bring people into an environment that does not belong to them and help them be a part of natures experience without disrupting the natural wonder of interacting with animals in the wild.
Captain Mike's love for the manatees, plus his educational background , combine in a relaxed way creating a great 'in the wild' experience for humans and sea animals alike. He didn't miss a moment to educate us 'land lubbers' in the way of living in the water while ensuring enjoyment for everyone.
It was absolutely incredible coming face-to-face with such a huge animal for the first time.
I was literally breathless. Yes I think I stopped breathing for at least sixty seconds. I had no idea how large a manatee actually was. The average adult manatee is about 10 feet long and weighs between 800 and 1,200 pounds.
There is no comparison with looking down at manatees in the water, and being right next to them underwater.
The first manatee to swim up to us was at least 10 feet long. This sea cow had to weigh over 1,000 lbs and it took me by complete surprise that he was so massive compared to me.
I knew my daughter and her friend were thinking the same thing, we were all speechless as his wrinkled face looking back at us. It was a few minutes before anyone could say anything.
We enjoyed a special moment of feeling completely connected to another world.
It is easy to see how an experience like this connects people to conservation efforts and a love for other life forms and respect for their environments.
The Senegalese poet Baba Dioum was correct when he said, "In the end, we conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught."
Don't miss the boat on a manatee swim and snorkel tour with River Ventures in Crystal River, FL. I'm glad I didn't!
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Nicole Carver Friday, 02 November 2012 18:04 Comment Link
Awesome Day Trippin' article! Your making we want to pack up and move down there!
Ed Upton Friday, 02 November 2012 01:29 Comment Link
Great article Tonya! Yes, I remember the boating days with the manatee at Sanibel in Pine Island back back bay area, especially Tween Waters. How did we miss River Ventures? A must to visit our next trip south.
Rose Mogavero Thursday, 01 November 2012 10:39 Comment Link
Wonderfully written article. I feel like I was right there with her.
Thank you for another exciting article!