February 11, 2020

#204 Swimming with the Manatees

"Gentle and endearingly playful, with puppy-dog faces attached to 2,000 pound potato sack bodies that only their mothers could love, manatees (a.k.a. West Indian sea cows or Sierenia, "sirens") were often mistaken for mermaids by ancient sailors..."

"Graceful and wonderfully charismatic, they're known to nudge and nuzzle their snorkeling visitors, and in recent decades have become a major cause celebre, with their status on the critically endangered list."

"The U.S. population of some 3,000 manatees lives almost exclusively in the warm water bays, estuaries, and rivers of Florida's eastern and western coasts, wintering particularly in Citrus County, in the west-central part of the state.  This is the only place in the world where you can have a face-to-face encounter with these gray-blue marine mammals."

I started my day at the Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park. It was a really good decision.  I'd originally scheduled a "dry" manatee tour for very early in the morning, hoping to go before it got to crowded and the water to murky to see.  Unfortunately, the outfitter ended up canceling that tour and re-booked me on a 1:30 tour.  

The park generally houses animals that need rehabilitation or cannot be released in the wild, so they have manatees at their facilities all year long, but during the winter months, they open the spring gates so wild manatees can swim in and take advantage of their warmer water.

In some of my pictures, you can see the rope line and how many boats were lined up on the other side, but from the boardwalk it was crystal clear water and at least a hundred manatees right below you.


They are also home to Lu, America's oldest hippo - he turned 60 about a month ago.

There's a pretty wide variety of animals there including alligators, river otters, birds, and this super cute squirrel (I am pretty sure it's a-wild, and b-that we struck a deal so it wouldn't run off before I took its picture.)


After the Wildlife Park, I headed to my tour and, boy, was I glad I'd gone to the park.  As suspected, by 1:30 the water was to murky to really see much of anything (silt having been stirred up by the crowds and the manatees themselves), and it was crowded.  So, if you're going to go I highly suggest you do a swim/snorkel, or rent a paddle board or kayak so you are right in the water.

This guy was right next to our boat and we could barely seem him.

Also, we weren't able to "stop" so we could see into the roped off areas, but couldn't really see anything or take photos.

And for no particular reason, our captain pointed out John Travolta's house.