Swimming with marine wildlife, especially manatees, has been on the top of my bucket list since I was young. However, being an animal lover, I always want to make sure the experience is ethical, especially as manatees are a protected species in Florida. Swimming with manatees in itself can be controversial, as some argue that it is better for the animals to remain wild and without close contact with people (which I can understand). I’m also glad I had done my research beforehand so I could make the most of the experience, while being respectful towards these animals. Here are some things to know before swimming with manatees:
Go to Crystal River and find the right company
Crystal River is the only place where you can legally swim with these amazing and gentle creatures right in their own natural habitat. In 1983, the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge was established to specifically protect the Florida manatees that consider this area their home.
We chose Fun 2 Dive as it has good reviews, offers smaller tours, and is open year round (although it was pretty cold to swim in February, even in Florida!). Like most licensed companies, it cost $60 per person, including wetsuits and snorkeling gear. They also provided us with some helpful pre-snorkeling information, which helped us prepare for the experience, as well as prevent getting an unexpected fine from accidentally interfering with these loveable creatures. And on that note…
Brush up on your “manatee manners”
Due to the Mammal Protection Act of 1972, visitors who want to swim with these creatures have to comply with a series of regulation in order to keep manatees safe. This is their own natural habitat, where they go to stay warm. Swimmers must passively observe manatees at a distance, snorkel without fins, not initiate contact, and observe from the surface of the water.
Winter is the best time to see manatees
King’s Bay is fed by 28 natural springs, which maintain a constant temperature of 72 °F (22 °C) — a temperature that the Manatees love and helps them keep warm during the winter. Therefore you’re more likely to see manatees spend time in King’s Bay during the winter season, as it is vital to their survival. They need water that is at least 60 °F in order to survive! However, for us humans, be prepared for the water to feel cold (especially if it’s only 60 °F outside – the water is going to feel extra chilly!). Luckily, we had hot chocolate waiting for us on the boat after an afternoon of cold swimming. Also be prepared for the water to be on the mirkier side if swimming in King’s Bay. Due to the low visibility, there were often times I thought I was looking at a large rock, but turned out to be another manatee!
Have fun and enjoy the experience!
For a lot of visitors, this is a once in a lifetime experience, so take the time to enjoy it! Manatees are such majestic creatures and it’s important to spread awareness of these gentle giants and their well-being (since 2017, they are no longer considered an endangered species!). Also take the time to learn some fun facts about manatees before you swim with them! Here are some to get you started:
- The closest living relative to a manatee is the elephant.
- Even though they resemble very round potatoes, manatees only have about 4% body fat!
- Manatees are herbivores who eat 10% of their body weight every day (that’s a lot of grass).
- Female manatees usually have one calf every two to five years.
- Manatees go to the surface of the water every three to five minutes to breathe although they can remain underwater longer, holding their breath for up to 20 minutes.
- Their skin doesn’t heal like ours does. If they end up getting a cut or gash, that skin is gone forever.
- But they continue to replace their teeth throughout their entire lives!