To swim with Manatee you first need to understand who and what these docile, social animals are all about. Then you need to learn how to swim with them so that no one gets hurt, frightened and most importantly the manatee get the respect and love they need.
Let’s Learn a Bit about Manatee in Crystal River and Homosassa Springs
There are around 700 West Indian Manatees visit and 70 live in Crystal River and Homosassa’s springs waters.
The West Indian manatee (Trichechus manatus) ranges from Florida to Brazil.
Baby manatees emit sound under the water and can be heard by humans while under water. They make these sounds when they are frightened, or interacting with another manatee and with their babies.
Crystal River and Homosassa Springs are one of the only places in Citrus County Florida where people can legally interact and swim with the manatees in their natural habitat.
The reproductive rate for the manatee is very slow. Gestation period is about 13 months. Manatees breed year round in Florida, however most of the calf’s are born in the spring and summer months.
A few weeks after being born the infant begins to nibble on plants. The calf may stay with the mother for up to two years before going out on its own. It stays with the mother to learn survival, travel routes and warm water refuges.
It is believed that they can live around 60 years.
The main season is winter, from December till April, with peaks in January and February when the weather is at its coldest. Manatees love the warm waters of the area.
These huge magnificent creatures, once called sea cows, are believed (somehow) responsible for the stories once told by sailors of mermaids.
When they are resting, they can stay underwater for up to 15 minutes.
Manatees push food toward their mouths with whiskers on their upper lips.
How To Swimming With Manatee
Crystal River Florida area is flooded with snorkeling tours of swimming with Manatee. It is truly hard to find the one that would be the best, since they all have great reviews. However, when I was doing my search this one particular operator stood out the most – Snorkel with Manatees Tour.
Why? There are always a few elements that come into play when organizing a tour that involve little people (my kids).
1. The operator needs to show me they have good service – Captain Gene, the owner, responded quickly. Answered all my questions. And had a great sense of humor.
2. Size of group – we all know as parents that our kids rock. But let’s face it, they only rock to us (mainly). Otherwise they can be quite annoying to other people. So for us a small group or even private (at a good price) is crucial. Captain Gene told me that his boats can’t hold any more than six people plus the captain. There are four of us, so worse case scenario will be a full house. We had a private tour and it was fantastic.
3. Time of tour – Every single tour operator offers three tours during the day – 6 or 7 am, 10 or 11 am and 1 pm. All of them mainly recommend the 7 am saying that that is when the most amount of manatee are. Which makes me think that the manatee swimming area will be full of people and won’t be fun.
Captain Gene was the only one that said that an 11 am tour is better due to less people and also the Manatee don’t know the different hours. To this day, I still don’t know why the other operators are so keen on pushing the early morning tours. I think it is because they want the afternoon off for themselves. With really young kids 7 am isn’t even an option. So the 11 am tour was just what I wanted.
And the Captain was dead on – few people and plenty of Manatee fun.
4. Instructions for kids – telling a kid to not touch a manatee in a certain way is like putting up a big sign demanding that they hop on one and take it for a ride. So a good teacher to inspire love for the animal is important. This is something you can’t gage by emailing or even talking on the phone until you arrive to the place. But when we were inside the office there were thank you letters plastered all over the walls from kids my kids ages, immediately showing me that they can handle them.
First we needed to learn where we can touch the manatee when it comes to us. Basically, they like to be rubbed above their head and also if they flip over, and they do that a lot, between their hands.
Secondly, how to swim when in the water. If you swim like you usually do, this will frighten the manatee. Basically, you needed to hold on to a foam string in the water and move your feet slowly not to stir up too much dirt and also not to frighten the animal.
5. Equipment and gear for all ages – this was a big question for me. My youngest boy is three. Not every operator works with kids his age. And even if they say they do, they don’t have the correct equipment. In this case it was wet suits and snorkels. This company did.
Stay tuned for the actual Swim with Manatee!
Information for Snorkel With Manatee Tour
Captain Gene is the owner and offers several different tours.
We went with the private tour because the regular group tour was $35 per person plus $20 for the gear which was $55 per person. One of the best prices actually. All the other companies charge around $35 for the gear alone and $40 – $50 for a tour per person.
The private tour is $95 per person including everything. And it comes with a lot of perks as well.
Also, we rented a underwater camera for another $20. Well worth it if you don’t have one. It is hard to see, but you do capture some amazing moments.