What You Need To Know
First off lets set the record straight. Animal tourism is not cool, not with us anyways. We’re pretty serious about nature and keeping wild things wild. We believe that every travel dollar we spend makes a statement and we always want to be sure we are only participating in experiences that are both ethical and environmentally friendly. Obviously the idea of swimming with an endangered species came with some trepidation.
When in doubt ask questions… here’s what we learned
As they should be manatees are protected by both the Endangered Species Act and The Marine Mammal Protection Act. There are rules to be followed during this experience. All of the operators we encountered strictly adhered to these guidelines, and intervened immediately if a guest was in violation. There’s a few reasons for this 1) This is a privilege, abuse of this means the area is closed to visitors, which in turn means no more jobs for the industry. 2) These people genuinely care about the preservation of this species, we liked that!
Allowing people to swim with manatees allows people to make a personal connection. Experiences such as these aid in salvation of this species by promoting advocacy and stewardship among the general public.
How To Swim With Manatees
We’ve said it before, but it’s worth saying again; we are not group tour people. But, we are so glad we signed up for a three hour tour with River Ventures. These guys were seriously awesome. For $65 per person, you get gear rental if you need it ( wetsuit, snorkel and masks, fins are a no go around manatees), hot beverages before and after your tour, and an in-water guide to help you get the best experience possible. Well worth it. Would we do it again? For sure.
Before we left on our little getaway we tried to do some research, we were hoping that we could do this venture without having to sign up with a tour group, but the how to info just wasn’t really there. Now that we’ve gone and experienced it first hand we’ve learned a few things. Going out to King’s Bay unguided is most definitely do able. You can paddle into King’s Bay from multiple spots in the area, and self-guide your own manatee experience (you’ll need an anchor for your craft). If you choose to go this route there are some very, very important things you need to know.
Following these rules will help keep the manatees happy and you out of Federal prison, it’s a win-win!
Rules For Swimming With Manatees (per FL FWC):
- Look, but don’t touch manatees. Keep hands and objects to yourself. Don’t attempt to snag, hook, hold, grab, pinch, hit or ride a manatee.
- Don’t feed manatees or give them water. If manatees become accustomed to being around people, they can alter their behavior in the wild, perhaps causing them to lose their natural fear of boats and humans, which may make them more susceptible to harm.
- Do not pursue or chase a manatee if you see one while you are swimming, snorkeling, diving, paddling or operating a boat.If a manatee avoids you, do not chase the animal for a closer view.
- Never poke, prod or stab a manatee with your hands, feet or any object.
- Give manatees space to move. Avoid isolating or singling out an individual manatee from its group and do not separate a cow and her calf.
- Avoid excessive noise and splashing if a manatee appears nearby. The manatee may be resting and may surface without being aware of your presence. Noise and activity may startle the animal awake, which may put it in harm’s way if it is frightened and leaves the area.
- If the site you visit allows in-water activities near manatees, use snorkel gear and float at the surface of the water to passively observe manatees. The sound of bubbles from SCUBA gear or other devices may cause manatees to leave the area.
Our Tips For The Best Experience:
- When in doubt go with a guide. We booked the Endangered Encounter with River Ventures, and you should too!
- Swim might not be the right word. The goal is to not swim at all, but float. Float with manatees. These are pretty mellow critters who appreciate it when you keep things chill so the more motion you make the less likely you have to really connect with one of these creatures!
- Fun Fact, Manatees are so sensitive they can feel your heartbeat in the water. Channel your inner yogi and relaaaaax.
- Mind your manatee manners. Volunteers and rangers patrol the area, and will pull you out of the water and ticket you if you step out of bounds. Follow the rules, stay out of the sanctuaries, and be respectful. It’s all pretty simple.
What You Should Bring:
- Bathing Suits– The first word in the title of this post is “swimming”, any questions?
- Underwater Camera– You’re going to have an amazing experience. Snapping at least a few quick shots to inspire jealously in all your buddies is a travel necessity! Just about any camera will work, but we really love our GoPro for adventures like these! If you want to know more about all the camera gear we carry we’ve got the full set up in detail for you here.
- Wet Suit– Prime Manatee season is the winter months. Yes, it’s winter in Florida so chances are its going to be a good bit warmer than wherever you’re traveling from but it is still winter and spending a lot of time in the water you can get chiller than you might expect. Most tour companies will provide you with a suit if you’d like to wear one. We are passionate divers so we always bring our own for this trip I wore my Roxy Spring Suit, and DJ brought along his Neil Pryde front zip.
- Snorkel Gear– This is another item that most definitely should be provided by your tour company. Bringing your own is a matter of personal preference. If you only dive or snorkel once a year its probably not worth the investment to buy your own. We spend a lot of time in and underwater. The idea of sharing a snorkel that a thousand strangers mouths have been on ( yes, I know they sanitize them) just doesn’t make me smile. We’re big fans of our US Divers gear.
- Dry Bag- You’re on a boat, you’re stuff is going to get wet. Keep your change of clothes snacks, and other valuables safe from getting splashed by storing them in a dry bag. We carry an Overboard Dry Bag, and it hasn’t failed us yet*Travelers Tip- we learned the hard way, dry bags sold at Walamart are affordable, they also melt if it gets too hot. Invest your money wisely.
- The Basic Necessities- Make sure you throw a few creature comforts into your dry bag. I don’t know about you guys but finding ourselves hungry and snack less is a direct route to cranky town. So be sure to toss some snacks, bottled water, towels, and a change of clothes into your bag before you leave the docks.
We were lucky, despite the warm weather we swam/ floated with multiple manatees. And just as we were about to hop back on the boat to end the day, we had a special treat encounter with a mother and her calf. It was an experience we’ll never forget!
You can check out the footage of our manatee encounters and all the other awesome adventures we had on the Nature Coast here.