Manatee Sanctuary - Snorkeling/Boating Tours
4 NE 5th Street (on Citrus Ave.), Saint Petersburg, FL, USA
www.manateetoursusa.com/inde… - 352-795-1333
Manatee Sanctuary - Snorkeling/Boating Tours Saint Petersburg Reviews
Swim with the Manatees Nov 22, 2009
The West Indian Manatee are found in profusion in Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge in Crystal River, Florida. A visit to swim, snorkel, or kayak with the manatees is an easy day trip from the St. Pete area.
Manatees congregate in the sanctuaries in this area because of the warmth of the springs. They swim in from the ocean in search of these warmer waters - so the best time to see them is in the winter when they are escaping the cold.
Since this is not a controlled environment you could get lucky and see dozens or unlucky and see just one. We were fairly lucky and saw 5, including two calves. Ed had been during a previous Florida vacation and had seen only one, while Jac had been once and seen tons. Either way, they are amazing animals and viewing them from a boat or swimming alongside them is an incredible experience.
The adults can live to be 70 years old, reach 12 feet in length and can weigh as much as 2,000 pounds/500kg. Unfortunately, many do not get to enjoy this natural longevity or great size and they are a listed endangered species. The greatest danger facing the manatee is collision with boats. They travel slowly - 3-5 miles per hour, and surface for breath as frequently as every 3 minutes - making them an easy target for fast moving boats. Their winter exodus from the cold waters of the ocean to the inland Florida river areas makes them particularly vulnerable to boating collisions.
Florida has established many sanctuaries to protect the manatee - many of them located in and around Crystal River.
The younger manatees are extremely curious and will search out visiting swimmers and snorkelers. The older ones tend to stay within the sanctuary boundaries, where humans are not allowed. We were told that they like to have their bellies rubbed. If you rub their backs, they tend to go deeper out of your reach.
There are numerous outfitters that run these tours and it is very competitive price-wise and they all go to the same areas - so it really doesn't matter which one you choose, although it's probably easiest logistically to work with the one affiliated with your hotel (if you're spending the night). I've identified the one we used here as they did an excellent job. A couple of hours, boat & snorkeling equipment included, was $80. It's also customary to tip the guide - who is usually very knowledgeable about the manatee and their habitat and who works hard to seek out as many for viewing as possible.
Diving tours are offered, but they don't tell you that the bubbles produced by the diving gear are off-putting to the manatee - so you're likely to chase them away by diving. Snorkeling, kayaking & swimming are all better options and if it's cold you can wear a wet suit or avoid the water completely and view them from the boat.
We found it well worth the two hour drive to see the endangered manatee and I would even drive 6 from Atlanta to do it again. The ability to swim or snorkel with the manatee may not be available much longer - as some manatee advocates are pushing for stopping contact. They believe touching them is interfering with their natural survival instincts and if they succeed in their advocacy, you may find yourself viewing them from a boat.
The town of Crystal River did not seem to offer much and the choice of hotels is limited and we found their quality to be poor. St. Pete, Orlando, Tampa & Kissimmee are all easy drives (90 minutes if you avoid traffic), making Crystal River a great day trip from any of the popular North Florida tourist destinations.
Part of the Half Marathon Weekends travel blog
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