A Manatee Moment to remember
We looked at each other from a few meters with the weeds swaying in the current. A school of small fish swam past but I hardly noticed them as I was awed by being so close to a Manatee. There was no feeling of danger as I faced this huge mammal, only about 3 meters away. We simply floated together until I realized that we were moving out of the demarked swimming area. I turned away to stay inside the markers and lifted my head to get my breath back as I realized I had not even been breathing for a while. I saw Audrey standing on the nearby floating stand and pointed down into the water to share the moment with her but then realized that only me and the Manatee could share it. This fresh water river where I had been snorkeling is in the Wakulla Springs State Park, in Florida, near Tallahassee.
During an earlier boat trip we had counted at least eight of these beautiful creatures, including a mother and calf. A few days earlier we had looked for them in the Suwannee River, but with no luck. Now we found them, and without planning to do so I had encountered one under water. He had perhaps out of curiosity moved into the area set aside for visitors to swim in. These mammals often come too close to the boats that take visitors out on the river and can then get injured by the propellers of the boats. The Park Rangers who take visitors out keep a careful eye out for them, wanting to show them to visitors who peer carefully into the water, but at the same time at all costs avoid injuring them. Unfortunately some of the fishermen and hunters who share the rivers with them are not as careful.
Manatees are the Florida State Marine Mammal and are herbivorous, so perhaps my Manatee was coming to feed on the grass in the swimming area. They are 10-12 feet in length and weigh up to 1800lbs so I was badly out sized and outweighed. Fortunately they are friendly and peaceful animals and so I in fact did not have to be afraid. They are also listed as endangered and so need to be protected. This Manatee moment can be listed as one of the magic moments on our road trip, and is up there with standing right next to the falling waters of Niagara Falls or paddle skiing with Dolphins at Nahoon Reef in East London.