See the Gentle Manatee

Two if by Sea
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Just as our eyes became adjusted to the murky underwater light, we felt a surge. We were suddenly nose-to-snout with a 10-foot, 1,000-pound West Indian manatee.

After the initial adrenaline rush, we slowly relaxed. Giant seacows—as many as 60—circled, nudged, and rubbed up against us.

To know a manatee is to love a manatee: These silly-putty-faced giants have tootsie-roll bodies, lumpy snouts, and whiskered lips. They are gentle, playful, and friendly.

Each winter, starting around mid-November, one of the largest herds of manatees in the United States migrates from the Gulf of Mexico to the warm, spring-fed waters of the Crystal River and Homosassa River, on Florida's Gulf Coast. Approximately 250 to 300 manatees join a resident population of about 30.

Awesome Orcas
We watched from our kayaks as a pair of black fins sliced the surface of the water in front of us. Then we saw another pair, and another. Dozens of killer whales were heading straight for us.

We stopped paddling and waited as the group of orcas—or pod—came within 10 feet of our kayaks.

“I felt the blowhole air!” one of the children shouted.

Then the whales were gone, as quickly as they had appeared.

Scene from a disaster flick? Nope, it's kayaking with whales in the picturesque San Juan Islands, one of the premier whale-watching locations in the world.

The idea may seem daunting at first, but it's perfectly safe, even for first-time paddlers and kids as young as eight.

On one-day and multi-day trips, you'll paddle along the serpentine shoreline of Puget Sound, among the lush, mossy islets that make up the 468-island archipelago.

When orca whales are out of sight, look for harbor seals, sea lions, Dall porpoises, puffins, and bald eagles.

Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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