Friday, September 12, 2014

Florida Manatee

There are three species of manatee: (1) the West Indian manatee, found in the coastal areas and rivers of the Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic coast up to the state of Georgia; (2) the Amazonian manatee, found inland in the Amazon River and its tributaries, solely in fresh water; and (3) the West African manatee, found along the coast of West Africa and estuaries and freshwater river systems from the Senegal River south to the Kwanza River in Angola. The West Indian manatee has two subspecies, the Florida manatee and the Antillean or Caribbean manatee. 

In January 2013 I visited Crystal River on the Gulf Coast of north/central Florida, an area known for its manatee population because it has headwaters that maintain a 72 degree temperature year round.  I went out on a commercial boat with a wet suit, snorkel and underwater camera with the hope of seeing and photographing these amazing creatures. It was just recently that Judy took my underwater camera in to get the pictures developed and I was thrilled to have some pictures that actually turned out. 
Crystal River is well known as a good place to find manatees.
Great efforts are made to try and avoid collisions between manatees and boats.
Adult manatees weigh between 880 and 1,210 pounds (the record is 3,913 pounds) and average about 9.6 feet in length (the record is 12 feet). Females are larger and heavier and the Florida manatee is the largest of all manatees. Manatees have a large prehensile upper lip which gathers food, the face looks a lot like a walrus, and a very odd looking paddle shaped tail which displaces any hind limbs, although the tail or flipper does have three or four "toe" nails at the bottom end.

The Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge is apparently one of the very few places you can legally get in the water and swim near manatees. We were taken to a spot that had buoys and what looked like lane dividers in a swimming pool, an area where we could actually get in the water and snorkel. For some reason the manatees had recently left the area for the most part, I believe it might have been a rare cold spell, and the manatee sightings had dropped way down. The water was very murky and I was not able to see very far. I recall being absolutely shocked to look up and have a manatee staring me in the face. It didn't stick around very long. I fumbled around with the underwater camera and couldn't see through the view finder. I basically just held up the camera, pointed it in the right direction and hoped it would get something. I was concerned that it was so dark and murky that nothing would show up. I swam around the area and saw several manatees, or the same manatee several times. I believe I was the only one of the seven or eight people on our boat to see one.
The area we were able to get in the water and snorkel.
You can see I was very close and the great framing indicates that I was startled as well. It is a very large presence to suddenly turn up right in your face.
Here it is a little farther away.
An enlarged view of the same picture.
This photo gives a better view of the flipper.
Later we went up to another area which was more clear and snorkeled, but did not see any manatees. But on our way back out, toward the dock, we saw a manatee swimming along in the channel. It looked like a large underwater specter. So although I did not get a lot of great looks at manatees, I did see at least a couple and felt fortunate under the circumstances.
This manatee, as viewed from above the water.


  1. Strange to think people thought those were mermaids.

  2. 3,913 lbs? That is one enormous beast!

  3. Awesome! We have fond memories of Florida wildlife by nothing like this.

  4. Like the rhino, I would place these in the "prehistoric" category, but maybe that's because I felt prehistoric myself every time I asked a photo department, "Do you develop film?" and the cute young thing behind the camera said, "What? Like in old-fashioned cameras? No."