Swimming With Manatees
Floating in the shallow, clear waters of the Crystal River in Citrus County, Florida, I'm face to fuzzy muzzle with a 500-pound beast that looks like the result of an illicit coupling between the Pillsbury Dough Boy and an oversized basset hound. The inquisitive creature, a baby manatee, regards me and my fellow snorkelers with expressive black eyes as he propels his rolls of cuddly, algae-covered blubber towards us with two stubby gray paddles. "Aww!" we gurgle through our snorkels as the calf greets us, rubbing his undulating, elephantine hide beneath our outstretched hands.
Such scenes take place each year between November and March. During these months, more than 300 Florida manatees gather in Citrus County, 90 minutes northwest of Orlando, attracted by the relatively warm, spring-fed waters. The aquatic mammals love it here, and the place has capitalized, offering carefully supervised, organized swims with these beguiling behemoths. A few of them linger year-round, but if you come in the winter, you can actually get in the water with them.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication