There’s only one place in the U.S. where it’s legal to swim with manatees and that’s Crystal River, Florida. The friend of mine who recently moved to Florida, told me this while pulling up a Web site to Crystal River.
Yep, sure enough. The manatees arrive in droves at Kings Bay along Florida’s west coast via the Gulf of Mexico starting the end of October. Picture 60 miles north of Tampa and 30 miles west of Ocala
Oscala and you’re there. This pristine spot is the winter home for one of the world’s largest manatee herds that will frolic here until the end of March when they start heading north again.
A warning though, along with the manatees, people herd themselves here on the weekends. According to this one Web site with info on Crystal River, there are enough snorkelers in Tarpon
Tampon Springs, (also called Kings Springs) that you could almost walk across the water on their backs. That sounds like an interesting sport. I wonder if you have to pay?
For this reason, the author suggests that you visit during the week, or head to one of the less visited springs. One, Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park is mentioned has an environmentally friendly twist. Here, besides just seeing the manatees, there are educational programs about them, as well as, the other wildlife in the area. Bird walks are monthly occurrences up until the end of May. If you head here June, July and August, no guided bird walk for you.
This month Lu’s Birthday Party is a featured event. Lu is the park hippo and a reason for a party each January. Here’s the link to the park’s events page that gives the details of all the happenings through the spring. The hippo pictured is Lu.
If you do plan to swim with manatees, check out the Web site Save the Manatees Club, first. Swimming with the manatees provides a thrill, but be careful how you go about it. The activity doesn’t always bode well for the manatees. Motor boats have motors, for example.
At Homossassa Springs there is an environmentally, manatee friendly excursion that sounds divine. For $40 bucks you head out in a kayak on a guided 3-hour tour. (The theme-song from Gilligan’s Island just popped into my head for a moment.) The photo to the left was taken at Three Sister Springs, another option.
For more manatee info from the Save the Manatee Club, click here. Also at the site, for $35 you can adopt a manatee and get a stuffed animal as a thank-you. Put a red bow around it’s neck, fasten a small box of chocolate in a heart-shaped box to it’s flipper and you have a Valentine’s Day present for a child. Hmmmm. Now, that’s an idea.
There are several swim with the manatee tours around Crystal River, but, like I mentioned, I’d keep the manatees in mind before heading out on a motorized boat. Although, since another major spot to view the manatees is at the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge and it is only accessible by boat, make sure you head to an establishment with reputable folks running it.
There are rules for where motorized boats can be used and where they can’t be. My general feeling is that people who make their money off wildlife do a pretty good job of taking care of it. They’re not likely to ruin their money tree.
To help you be in the know about appropriate manatee interactions, here’s a link to guidelines from the refuge. Also, here’s a Gadling post from Dolores Parker who had a personal experience swimming with the manatees last June. Even though she and her family went off-season, they did have some luck.