Swimming With Manatees
But I wanted to cavort with these critters in their natural element. So, with a guide and a group, I set off early in the morning, when the manatees are most alert. We cruise aboard the dive boat for half an hour before spotting a mother and calf in the waters of Crystal River. Quickly slipping on our masks and flippers, we slide into the water and quietly approach. The mother, her back crisscrossed with scars from previous run-ins with boats, keeps her distance. But we're a bit taken aback by the relatively rambunctious calf, who soon insinuates himself among our circle of snorkelers. We had been warned not to harass or surround a manatee, but what do you do when one charges you?
"It's okay to touch him if he approaches," assures our guide, Sean Bradley, who scratches the calf under its armpit, where its nipples are hidden. Perhaps this reminds the calf that it's dinnertime, for shortly afterwards, he nuzzles his snout beneath his mother's paddle to nurse. The pair lay contentedly on the sandy floor as we watch this touching tableau from a respectful distance, having been firmly instructed to never follow a manatee underwater, where they retreat to feed and sleep.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication