Sunday, January 30, 2011
Swimming with Manatees
The West Indian manatee of Florida frequently migrates up rivers and brackish water estuaries to freshwater springs. We found a large number of them congregating in the warmer spring water of Kings Bay near the end of Crystal River in FL, about an hour and a half driving time north of Tampa.
An adult manatee is anywhere between 10 and 12 feet long and weighs up to 4,000 lbs. Using a large flexible upper lip, they feast primarily on mangrove leaves, turtle grass and various types of algae. With their thick, wrinkled skin and soft bodies, it is believed that their closest living relative is the elephant. They have a large, flat paddle-like tail.
Most of their time is spent sleeping, surfacing for air at intervals of about 20 minutes. We saw many of them quietly lying on the bottom. They are generally slow moving and somewhat timid but a several of them seemed to enjoy being scratched underneath their chins. One of the babies actually gave me a big kiss on my scuba mask.