Crystal River and the manatees

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Crystal River and the manatees

Swimming with the Crystal River manatees was one of Ruth’s “many wishes” on our USA trip. One by one I had to ignore her wishes for budget reasons or because of the location (or just for spite 🙂 ) but this was a nice one that was worth the trip and later we realized that it was money well spent.

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After a week of fun in Orlando in some of the best parks in the world, we are now heading to Houston, Texas and plan to stop in Grayton Beach and New Orleans.

We had to leave no later than 11:30 to get to Crystal River 45 minutes before the tour, as requested by Manatee Tour & Dive company. However it is in our blood to be late for every appointment, so we left at 12:00. We were lucky that the traffic was good so we only got there a few minutes late. In the way to Crystal River the weather at that time was not the best with some clouds and rain, but as there was no thunder storm we still took the tour.

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Swimming with the Crystal River manatees

We were assigned to a boat with three other kids about Noah’s age which was good, because then we did not have to be concerned that we were slowing other people down. Noah was excited about the idea of swimming with the manatees, but he was a little bit concerned about the depth of the water, so we told him that we would stay with him the whole time and that he would be wearing a life vest to help him float.

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Upon arrival we were given wetsuits and there was a short video explaining the dos and don´ts during our swim with the manatees.

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Family Travel Secret
Manatees are very gentle mammals that don´t mind having people around, as long as they are not disturbed, so while swimming don´t reach out to them, but let them come to you. Don´t paddle with your legs and avoid sudden moves that might scare them off. If they are comfortable enough they will certainly not be bothered that you are around while they are eating or swimming - even the babies. Those are just a few of the basic rules that were in place to give us the best possible experience.

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Our boat had about 12 people in total (including us) and 2 instructors. We got our goggles and masks on and we were good to go to swim with the Crystal River manatees. Just before the first swimming spot we could see one manatee.

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A little bit further on the boat stopped in a place where we had our first contact with the manatees inside the water. Noah was brave and tried to come for a quick swim (like any other kid under 6 he had to use a life vest), but he was more concerned about the swimming than the animals and it did not take too long for him to ask to go back to the boat. I was with him while Ruth was having a closer look at these docile animals, but when Noah started calling for her she had to come back and it was my turn.

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It didn’t take long before I could see the first of the Crystal River manatees close to me. It was nice but I wanted to get closer, so as our instructor Shelly saw I was trying to get closer and holding the GoPro she gave me a gentle push to take me to a very nice spot. All of a sudden I had a large female manatee just below me. What a sensation!! I followed the instructions given during the video and was trying not to move my legs and arms. I was just floating and recording as much as I could. She probably realized that I was quiet in the water and she came even closer, to the point that she started touching my legs and my arms. The moment became even better when her baby manatee was also below me, so there you go … I had one adult and one baby manatee swimming around me and grabbing some food completely relaxed. That´s exactly what I wished for so that moment alone made the tour worthwhile.

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I came back to the boat with the others who were in the water and then we went to another spot where we could see other animal. They told us that we were lucky, as the water was clearer than expected for the season. The best time to see Crystal River manatees is in the winter between November and April.

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Family Travel Secret
There are quite a few other companies offering tours in the area, but the nice thing is that they respect each other, so when there was another group in the area with the manatees the other boat would wait their turn. It is nice to see that even though there are different companies they try to help each other.

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Next we stopped in a larger area and this time Ruth was the one spending more time with the animals while I was taking care of Noah close to the boat. She explained to me that it was a nice but unusual sensation and, whereas her intention was to avoid touching the manatees, with a sudden movement she touched one of them with her leg. It wasn’t a strong push, but it was enough to shake her confidence.

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We were then back on the boat and at that moment we could finally see clear skies, nice weather and the last manatee of our tour.

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We still had some time to get some pictures that were taken by our guide and some postcards from the shop, plus when we were talking with the guides Noah was playing with Ruth, acting as if they were manatees – a Mamma Manatee and a baby manatee Noah.

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A bit about Crystal River manatees and their habitat

The whole bay is protected and there are several other protected areas where human activity is not allowed apart from manatee watching. We were in one of them where several companies provide this nice experience to visitors, but our guide for the afternoon was Manatee Tour & Guide.

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On average Manatees can live between 35 and 45 years, but the oldest ones live for 60 years. In general babies always stay around their mother, but not the males. All of them need fresh water to survive, at least every one or two weeks. Due to this being in such a nice protected area there are hundreds of thousands of visitors who come to see the Manatees every year.

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In the region about 32 licensed companies provide the tour. Manatee Tour & Dive is the one that guided us and we fully recommend them. Thanks Shelly and Brian for such a nice experience with the Crystal River manatees!

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Next stop … Grayton Beach 🙂

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