Earlier this week I got to enjoy one of the true blessings of living in the Sunshine State…I went swimming with the Manatees.
Manatees are just so darn laid-back and lovable. They really remind me of basset-hounds…that are ten feet long and weigh as much as a small car. But they don’t have a mean bone in their body and they like nothing more than slowly moseying up to you and rolling over so you can give them a nice belly rub. Hard not to adore a gentle soul like that.
We were having a cold snap (for Florida anyway) and I knew that meant that the manatees would be coming in from the Gulf of Mexico and heading for the warm fresh water springs on Florida’s west coast. Manatees tend to be most active in the morning so I was up at 4 am and made the 90 minute drive so I could be on a dawn tour.
I met Captain Wyn as the morning treated us to a colorful sunrise. Rose and Kyle Hooten, a young adventurous couple traveling the country were the only other folks on the tour. We changed into our wet-suits and 15 minutes later we were the first boat to reach Homosassa Spring where we could see a number of manatees just below the surface.
I grabbed my camera, climbed down the ladder and headed toward a buoy ten feet away that was moving suspiciously. Sure enough, a manatee was ‘flossing’ on the buoy’s rope:
Within seconds, the manatees spotted us and headed over our way. They seem to be innately curious.
We were the subject of quite a bit of attention. During our first 30 minutes or so, I’d guess that at least a half dozen manatees came over to us. It really is quite a rush to have such a massive creature swim right up to your nose and stare directly into your eyes.
You are allowed to gently touch them with a single hand if they approach you. Sometimes they come right up to you and start slowly rolling just so you can reach their belly. A couple of them spent over five minutes with us, clearly loving the attention. Even though I’ve done this many times, I found myself enthralled all over again. Often I would just let the camera hang at my side and enjoy the moment…asking myself why it had been over two years since I had last done this.
Over the next 90 minutes, we saw manatees on a regular basis. A number of them were sleeping on the bottom, so of course we let them be, but every few minutes or so a manatee would come swimming by and check us out.
After a while the chill soaked thru our wet-suits and the heated cabin started sounding pretty darn alluring. But then another manatee would roll up and we’d forget about the cold again for a few minutes.
But after 90 minutes we decided to called it a day and head back to the dock. As we warmed up in the cabin, Kyle, Rose and I cheerfully gabbed about our day with the manatees and traded phone numbers promising to exchange photos.
It never hurts to remind myself that photography is about a lot more than just taking pretty pictures!
PSS: A lot of the regulations concerning manatee photography have changed substantially over the past few years. I’ll be posting a new blog within the next few weeks with updates and tips.
PSS: Check out my portfolio of manatee portraits here.