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Master Guide on Swimming with Crystal River Manatee

Swimming with Crystal River manatees is remarkably easy!

How often do you get to swim with manatees? If you’re like most people, I would be willing to bet that it is not very often. Few people have the opportunity to interact with manatees that appear on our coasts in the United States. For many people, the only way to see manatees is from behind the glass panes at the zoo. If you are lucky, you might be able to catch sightings of these massive mammals from the helm of a boat or a sandy shore.

What about the people who get to swim with manatees from the ocean? You, like me, might wonder how they can do that. I have seen some incredible photos from people swimming with manatees and I always wondered what it would be like to do that. It was not until I was curious enough to research and experience swimming manatees for myself, that I came to understand what an incredibly unique and significant this experience can be. I would highly suggest that anyone who loves the outdoors or animal life consider reading further.

I am here to give you the ins and outs of swimming with Crystal River manatees. In this guide, I will go over what a manatee is, where you find them, and how you can ensure a good experience when swimming with them! Before long, you will be a professional when it comes to Crystal River manatees!

The Legend of the Crystal River Manatee

The ocean remains a mysterious and unknown place. Of all the spots on earth, it is by far the least explored. Since humankind has existed, there have been legends about what lies beneath the ocean’s surface. Many people have thought they have seen mermaids and in turn, created myths about mermaids: human-like figures that lived below the ocean’s inviting surface. There have been all kinds of folklore around this idea of mermaids.

This folklore is common throughout many parts of the world. Claims from fishermen and swimmers used to puzzle communities and spark curiosity and imagination. Unfortunately, despite how enchanting the idea of mermaids is, it has been agreed by society at large that they do not exist.

But the animal behind the myth and the legend does exist.

It is believed that mermaids are just manatees!

At first glance, you may be surprised to find that these large sea mammals are the suspect. While they do not look humanlike at close inspection, from a distance, they were commonly mistaken as mermaids for a variety of similar attributes that are shared between the two mammals.

There are three kinds of manatees: West Indian manatee, Amazonian manatee, and African manatee. The West Indian manatee is found along the Atlantic coasts of the Americas; the Amazonian manatee hangs out in the Amazon River; the African manatee can be found on the Atlantic coast of Africa and in African rivers.

If you’re looking to find a manatee near the United States, you will be spotting the West Indian manatee. The easiest place to find manatees is in Florida.

Crystal River Florida manatees have a massive population of manatees all year long. This is thanks to the manatee preserve there that works year-long to protect these creatures. In the summer, Crystal River has the lowest number of manatees all year long. Even at its lowest, there are usually around 100 manatees still around. They enjoy the warmer waters.

Why manatees have ever been mixed up with mermaids

But I diverge. I am here to inform you as to why manatees have ever been mixed up with mermaids. These large creatures, though much similar in style to something like a seal or walrus, seem more humanlike from afar because of their flippers, which appear to look like arms. Crystal River manatees even have three to four nails on the end of their flippers. Beneath the flippers, manatees have fingerlike bones. It doesn't help that, as air breathers, Crystal River manatees tend to hang out near the surface of the water. Some people have claimed that when manatees emerge into the air, they can have a similar silhouette to a human woman. Crystal River manatees are peculiar creatures and it seems almost silly how they could be mixed up with the legends of mermaids.

Upon closer inspection, one can see that manatees have more similarities with elephants than humans. Yes, you heard me right! Crystal River manatee’s closest animal kingdom relative is the elephant. This is thanks to the similarities in both animals’ snouts. While elephants have an elongated snout, Crystal River manatees’ snouts are far shorter. They use prehensile lips to grab and tug food in a very similar way to elephants. Maybe you will be able to witness this happen for yourself when you get to swim with Crystal River FL manatees.

As you can see, these mammals have been inspiring awe and suspicion for many centuries. For those who are unfamiliar with the manatee, let me give you a little more information.

What is a Crystal River manatee?

Crystal River Florida manatees are large mammals. They have long bodies that taper into a paddle-like tail, with two flippers on either side of their body. If you look closely, they have thick, leathery skin and whiskers on their snouts. They, like other mammals, are warm-blooded, breathe air, and nurse their young with milk from a mammary gland. Somewhere between every three to twenty minutes, manatees need to take a breath of air.

When they are exercising more energy, they need to take more breaths. Unlike many other mammals, they live completely in water. You’ll never see one of these Crystal River manatees hanging out on a rock or coming ashore. They would much rather spend their days swimming at the water's surface.

Sea Cows

You might know them by their loving nickname of “sea cow.” They earned this nickname due to their massive size (somewhere between 9-13 feet long and as much as 3,500 pounds) and their lifestyle. Much like cows in the fields, Crystal River manatees spend around seven hours a day grazing. These herbivores eat a diet that consists almost entirely of seagrasses and weeds. Occasionally, a small fish or two will slip into their diet, but they do not prey on any other ocean animal.

Crystal River manatees have to eat between 100 to 200 pounds of seagrasses a day, which is the main reason that they spend so much of their lives grazing! Manatee babies are called calves, just like cows young. Manatees are loveable animals with a certain familiarity to people that most ocean animals lack.

No Natural Predators

Manatees have no natural predators. These creatures can live up to 60 years in and out of captivity! The biggest risk to their lives is humans. As an animal that chases warm water, preferring water temperatures of about 70 degrees Fahrenheit, they move from the ocean to springs depending on the time of year. When they move from ocean water into freshwater, they lose the algae that grow on their body.

Their biggest risk to their lives is the propellers of boats and the loss of their warm spring habitats. Pollutants and garbage in the water, which endanger plant life in the springs and put manatees at risk, are another issue facing manatees. It's a sad reality that because of careless and ignorant humans, manatees have faced a lot of pain and death. It's not uncommon for manatees to have several scars from boat propellers.

Wildlife Manatee Refuge

Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge is the only refuge set aside for West Indian manatees. This gulf coast town, an hour north of Tampa, offers a visitor center for guests to visit so that they can ask questions and receive information on the Crystal River manatees. The visitor’s center is located on Kings Bay. It's a great place to start your visit to Crystal River. The more you can learn, the better!

Where to find Crystal River manatees

When you first arrive at Crystal River and have stopped by the visitor’s center at Kings Bay, there will be several options for things to do. For those who wish to remain on land but are still hoping to catch a glimpse of the famous Crystal River manatees, you can do so by being shuttled to Three Sister Springs, where there is an installed boardwalk by the water. This allows visitors an opportunity to take an easy step into nature. it is family-friendly for all ages.

If you want to see more of the Crystal River manatees' preserve, you will need to either have your boat, rent a boat, or get a tour. This unusual area has been preserved to keep all kinds of buildings and infrastructure out of the habitat. Though this makes for a beautiful and, at times, remote visit, it does make it a little more difficult to access the manatees.

When to see the manatees

Every year, the Crystal River Florida manatee will draw in guests to this vacation spot. It has been largely untouched by society and offers not only a refuge for manatees, where they do not need to fear as many boat motors or habitat losses. The quaint town offers a variety of food and housing options, while nature provides the main attraction. The best time to see manatees in Florida is during “manatee season.” As manatees fill the springs during the winter, claiming the months between November through April as manatee season Crystal River, several hundred Crystal River manatees arrive. They rest here to prepare to traverse the colder gulf waters.

These mammals have no problem moving from ocean water to fresh water and instead choose where to go based on water temperature. If I was a manatee, I think I would do the same thing! These warm-blooded creatures need warm waters and air to survive.

Guided Tours

The best time to visit Crystal River manatees is in the winter. The easiest way to get to see manatees is by booking a tour. Booking a tour is an efficient way to see manatees, for you can count on your tour guide and company to know where all the best manatee sighting spots will be. It will take out all the guesswork away from you! Not only will they bring you to the manatees, but they will provide you with the instruction and equipment necessary to have the best kind of experience with manatees—a problem-free one!

Tour Types

By booking a tour to swim with manatees, you will be shown everything you need to know about swimming with manatees. There are several types of tours to fit your personal needs and interests. The public tours available or you can choose a private tour. They can vary in lengths of tours, from three hours to six hours, so you can control exactly how long you’re out with the manatees. I would suggest taking as much time as you can to swim with these animals. You won't regret it. These tours will usually supply you with equipment that makes your experience even easier. You’ll be given a wet suit, a mask, a water noodle, and a snorkel.

Snorkeling with manatees is such the craze, and with each of these tools, it will be much more fun to swim alongside Crystal River manatees. You do not need to be an expert swimmer; with the help of a noodle, you will not have to worry about staying afloat. Let's move on to all the advice I have to offer you.

All you need to know about swimming with manatees

Crystal River manatees are incredible animals. They move peacefully through the waters and, with no natural predators, live a calm life vegetating and swimming. When visitors interact with manatees, they need to be aware of the many rules surrounding these protected creatures.

The last thing anyone would ever want to do is scare or endanger the great Crystal River manatees more. On the flip side, it is important as a visitor to keep yourself safe as well. In this next section, I will go over all you need to know when interacting with Crystal River manatees. This list can serve as a guide to direct your behavior around the Crystal River manatees. I’m going to give you 5 simple steps.

Don’t touch the manatees.

This may sound self-explanatory at first. You might think, of course! Why would I touch a wild creature? The truth is that it may be hard to remember this once you are in the water. Crystal River manatees are extremely friendly; they’re curious about any newcomers who are swimming around them. It has been well recorded that manatees will swim close to humans and want to interact almost as much as humans do. Manatees have been said to get close enough that visitors should be able to smell their breath!

Help keep the manatees safe

Before rules and regulations were put in place to protect the Crystal Springs manatees, when people would reach out to touch manatees, these loveable animals would flip over and allow humans to scratch their bellies! These friendly mammals are generally trusting, however, the Endangered Species Act states that it is illegal to touch manatees.

This is very important to remember. As visitors in their habitat, it is our job to make sure we are keeping them safe at all times. This means obeying any laws and regulations around manatees. These rules are in place to protect manatees from us. The last thing we want to do is endanger Crystal Springs manatees.

Harmless to Humans

Manatees won’t bite you. I think this is important for people to know, because of the size many people wonder are manatees dangerous? Often, when visitors come, they are shocked by the sheer size of a manatee. They might become uneasy around these wild creatures; however, have no fear! They are not capable of biting you with how their snout and teeth are positioned. It is best to exercise caution regardless though. As friendly and loveable as these creatures are, they are still wild! You are truly getting an opportunity to catch them in the very places they choose to live.

Be mellow.

This rule can be hard to do. When visitors come, it can be an exciting and new experience. It is important to remain calm. By being chill and doing slow movements through the water, you will have a much higher chance of seeing more manatees.

Feelers more than See'ers

Crystal River manatees are very blind. They can see by collecting information from tiny little hairs that cover their entire body. This means that they are extremely sensitive to splashes and quick movements beneath the water. You’ll increase your shot of keeping Crystal River manatees around if you are swimming with slow movements. Avoid rapid strokes or constantly moving around. This may startle them or scare any manatees off. Try staying in one place for a long time and simply watching. As you come to trust manatees, they will come to trust you.

I think you will be astounded by what you can see!

Be aware.

This is another important piece of advice; be constantly watching. Depending on what tour you choose, you could have several other people around you in the water. Any time you are in the water, it is a good idea to exercise extra caution, not only for your safety but for the safety of the manatees.

Keeping an eye out

Crystal River manatees are docile animals that almost exclusively only need to worry about finding food and avoiding human boat propellers. It’s our job to make sure we are not making their lives more difficult. Always give manatees enough room to swim around you and do not try to get in between a mother and her calf. Avoid cornering manatees.

Watch from afar. You will be surprised to see how peaceful and easygoing these animals are. If you have any questions while you are swimming with the Crystal River manatees, do not be afraid to ask your guide. They are trained to be able to answer all of your questions.

Come dressed for the occasion.

This may seem like a silly rule, but it can make all the difference. If you’re going out and swimming by yourself, it is a good idea to wear a wetsuit. These wetsuits, given to you if you rent a trip, will make your time in the water even more enjoyable.

Though it is the perfect temperature for Crystal Springs manatees, you may find the waters to be a little chilly. It never hurts to dress up! Wearing a wetsuit allowed visitors to focus on manatees instead of trying to stay warm. Remember, you don’t want to do a lot of rapid movements! It will scare away the Crystal Springs manatees.

Other safety gear

Wear proper goggles too. It can be hard to see underwater, but with the right gear, you’ll be able to see well in the clear waters around Crystal Spring. Having the right equipment and clothes can make all the difference between a good experience swimming with Crystal Springs manatees or a difficult one. Save yourself the trouble and come dressed for success!

Come to have fun.

There are so few people in the world who get to swim with manatees. Manatee Florida Crystal River offers an extremely unique opportunity; nowhere else in Florida is there a preserve dedicated to protecting and providing for manatees. Nowhere else in the country can you find a higher concentration of manatees.

If you happen to set aside a trip to visit Crystal Springs or get a chance to pass through, take the opportunity to see the Crystal Springs manatees. I am certain you won’t regret it!

The truth is that manatees are not that different from us. It is no wonder that they are sometimes mistaken as being masculine mermaids. They enjoy their peace and love to eat; I can’t think of any two things that are more human than that.

Come and visit all year long, but especially in the winter. Swimming with manatees is the perfect winter activity. While the rest of the country bundles up inside, wishing that they could get out a little more, you can experience the true adventure of swimming alongside the Crystal River manatees. These ancient creatures have a lot they can teach us.

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