Attack of the Killer Manatee, with Videos
Unforgettable Florida Vacations
We're only about sixty miles from the Florida state line, so we take lots of Florida vacations. All of the vacations to Florida have been wonderful, but some are more memorable than others. Many of our family vacations involve saltwater fishing because several family members enjoy the sport. Several years ago I had a truly unforgettable Florida vacation - not because it was so much fun - but because of something very unusual that happened to me.
Several years ago, my husband, Johnny, and I spent our summer vacation at one of our favorite haunts – Amelia Island, Florida. We visit the area fairly frequently. For one thing, it’s beautiful and has great beaches. For another, the fresh seafood is tantalizing, and the village of Fernandina Beach is absolutely charming in its Victorian quaintness. The main reason we love the island so much, however, is because of the superb fishing.
On this fateful day, we had decided to try our luck at Fort Clinch State Park. We drove to the Amelia River, a saltwater channel that was both deep and wide. There was a strip of sandy beach there, but it was usually deserted in favor of the wider beach on the bay, which also had much safer water for swimming. The currents here in the river were deadly, but it held the large redfish and sharks we were targeting.
Johnny was loaded for bear. He had his biggest, heaviest saltwater rod and reel, including hundreds of yards of 100-pound test line. I was equipped with a six-foot cast net in order to hopefully catch some live mullet to use for bait. While he was readying his angling arsenal, I ambled down the beach with my cast net.
The sand beneath the water was littered with broken shells, many of which were razor sharp. I didn’t have a pair of water shoes, so I was being very careful not to step on the shards and cut my bare feet as I waded into the dark water. Almost immediately, I netted a few mullet in waist-deep water but decided they were too large to use whole. I held one up to show Johnny, who was fishing a few yards down the beach.
“Wanna cut this one up for bait?”
“Nah…I’ll use it live,” he answered.
I was surprised. This was a large mullet – probably almost eighteen inches long. What the heck was he hoping to catch – Jaws? I shrugged and met him halfway. I gave him the fish and put the other two in the bait bucket. By the time I continued my netting efforts, Johnny had already hooked the baitfish and cast in far into the channel.
In just a few minutes, Johnny had a fish on – a big one, judging by the fact that his stout rod was bent over double. I watched excitedly as he battled his opponent. The fish was quickly stripping of yards and yards of line in its efforts to escape, and Johnny couldn’t even turn it. After fifteen minutes or so, the fish made one final run and snapped the line. This had to be a huge fish!
Johnny trotted to the bait bucket and put another mullet on. He threw into about the same spot, and in a matter of minutes, he hooked another bruiser. He and this fish repeated the previous performance. Since the bait was going quickly, I decided I had better get to work catching more.
I saw a school of fish breaking the water’s surface, and I began closing in on them to get into cast range. They led me into deeper water, and before I knew it, I was chest deep and having to hold the net up with a lot of effort. I admit, I was a little uneasy about being out this deep, since Johnny had just done battle with what had to be two large sharks.
Just as I was considering the implications, I saw a big swell to my right. I knew there was something enormous lurking under the water’s surface, and I wanted no part of it. I began backing up slowly, moving toward the shore, being careful not to cut my feet on the shells.
Suddenly hideous beast the size of a Volkswagon emerged from the briny depths. It was only four or five feet away from me. I stood absolutely frozen in time for a nanosecond. The sea monster snorted at me and quickly disappeared into the muddy water. At that moment, I forgot all about my feet. All I could think of was reaching the safety of the beach. If it’s possible to run in deep water, I was pulling a Jesse Owens. I don’t remember yelling, but Johnny later assured me that I was. He ran to me, and we converged on the beach.
I pointed to the spot where I had been “attacked,” mumbling something about sharks and sea monsters. Johnny got me to sit down, and he noticed my feet. They were badly shredded. The blood was staining the sand a dark crimson, and I began to feel nauseous. Johnny helped me to the jeep, and we returned to our condominium.
By the time my husband was bandaging my wounds, I had calmed down. When that happened, I began to think clearly. The rolodex of my brain kicked in, and I realized I had been frightened by a manatee – a harmless plant eater. All this pain and bother over a friendly sea cow!
This should be the end of the story, and I wish it were. There’s more, however. It took my feet weeks to heal. There was one spot, though, that simply would not get better. It was on the top of my second toe. I wondered many times how a shell could have entered the top of my toe. Even after a couple of months, it was still painful. Of course, that’s the toe the kids always managed to step on.
One night in November, I was studying biology at the dining room table when my oldest daughter approached me to ask a question about her homework. She stepped firmly on my sore toe, and it started bleeding badly. I went to the bathroom for some tissue to try to stanch the flow. As I dabbed the wound, I felt something hard encased in the flesh. I grabbed a pair of tweezers from the cabinet and began probing the wound.
What I retrieved started me. It was almost an inch long and looked like a bone shard. It was gleaming white and very narrow, with serrated edges. Honestly, it looked like a tiny arrowhead or a diminutive Christmas tree. I had no idea what it was, and neither did Johnny. I decided to take it with me to college the next day and show it to my biology professor. The following is the gist of that conversation:
“Dr. Evans, could you tell me what this is?” I help out the offending item to him.
He examined the article and posed a question of his own. “Where did this come from?”
“From my toe. It was stuck in my toe, at an angle. What is it?”
He had another question. “When have you been to the beach?”
“We went in June.”
“No, Holle. When was your most recent trip to the beach?” He inquired.
“In June. That was the last time I’ve been to a beach. Why?”
“Well, my dear, you’ve been carrying around a sting ray barb for five months, then!”
Wow. How could I have been popped by a sting ray without knowing it? Was I so addled by the “killer” manatee that something like that would go unnoticed? I remembered being sick that day, after the incident. Maybe that’s why. I had just assumed it was due to the sight of so much of my own blood.
Just my luck, I thought. Who else could get attacked by not one, but two sea monsters within the span of just a few seconds? Well, at least I had a good story to tell my future grandchildren!
Read more about saltwater fishing by clicking the links below the Amazon products.
Read more about saltwater fishing and Amelia Island:
- How to Find Sharks' Teeth
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