Swimming with Florida manatees

Uploaded by KaraMurphyTravel on 18.01.2013

NARRATOR >> On a lovely December morning, I set out with Captain Stacy Dunn on her three-hour
manatee tour in Kings Bay, Florida.
My hope is that we'll have a chance to swim near at least one of the area's enormous
aquatic mammals,
and the chances of this happening are excellent.
Though some endangered Florida manatees are present in Kings Bay's spring-fed waters
between roughly mid-November and late March each year, their numbers swell to around 500.
The species, a sub-species of the West Indian manatee, come to escape the Gulf of Mexico's
chilly waters,
and their presence is all about survival.
CAPTAIN STACY >> They can get hypothermia and cold stress if they're in cold water,
so they have to come here and stay in the warm springs, which are 72 degrees (Fahrenheit).
That's what Mother Earth keeps them at.
NARRATOR >> We get our first glimpse of these gigantic creatures on the outskirts of one
of the seven manatee sanctuaries
that provide critical habitat within the Kings Bay Manatee Refuge.
During peak season, people aren't allowed within these sanctuaries.
We are, however, allowed to swim in Three Sisters Springs,
a complex of three spring areas and the most popular place for manatee encounters.
Here, the manatees are visible as soon as we enter the water,
initially trailing our movements and then continuing swiftly beneath us towards the springs.

As I make my way through the passage leading to the springs,
a mother and calf also swim past.
At birth, calves weigh about 30 kilos. Heavy, yes, but not so much for creatures
that average over 540 kilos and can weigh over 1500 kilograms.
CAPTAIN STACY >> The ones in the wild that have to fend for themselves,
their top weight when we do health assessments, which Mike and I are very involved in, is
around 2200 pounds.
NARRATOR >> As we reach the springs, the waters become magnificently clear,
revealing several resting individuals who rise occasionally to breath.
Although manatees can hold their breath for up to 20 minutes, they usually surface every
3-5 minutes.
Heeding Stacey's directions, we remain on the water's surface, calmly observing these beauties.

Federal and state laws protect this species, and disturbing or touching a resting manatee
is prohibited throughout the refuge.
Quite a few other activities are also off limits, including chasing, riding, pinching,
poking, cornering, and surrounding them.
While most of the 15 or so manatees present in this section of the springs are either
resting or otherwise disinterested in our presence,
a few are quite friendly.
We're not supposed to initiate contact, but some extroverts have no qualms about checking
us out fully.
Their antics allow me to get a good look at their flippers, which have 3-4 fingernails,
as well as their muscular lips, which are capable of manipulating food.
The cheeky vegetarians seem to smile at times, but their grins aren't toothy.
CAPTAIN STACY >> They have teeth, but they're called rotating molars and they sit way back
in their jaw bone,
so you'll never be able to see them.
NARRATOR >> Eventually, one manatee nuzzles me -- an amazing experience, at first.
When it pulls my hair, though, I'm reminded that these gentle but wild animals are potentially powerful,

and, while the 'no contact' recommendation is intended to protect the manatees,
it probably benefits their human visitors as well.
Whether resting or active, these adorable, funny mermaids are indeed mesmerising,
and I leave the water on a natural high.
And though some might classify this as a 'once-in-a-lifetime' sort of experience,
given the tour's reasonable price, I'm seriously tempted to come along again tomorrow.