Posts Tagged ‘Save the Manatee Club’

On *not* swimming with manatees

February 1, 2009
Manatee and her calf swim near kayaker holding a camera underwater (photo Steve Sapienza)

Manatee and her calf swim near kayaker holding a camera underwater (photo Steve Sapienza)

My piece on *not* swimming with manatees, but instead going on a kayak trip near their sanctuaries, ran on the front of the Boston Globe’s travel section today. Coincidentally, it came out a week after a New York Times’ Escapes-section story on swimming with manatees that did not even mention the controversy around intruding into the natural life of a wild creature, much less an endangered one. That breaks my heart.

With the Times’ reach, it would have been so meaningful to impart even a little bit of that information. Also, to my eye, the photo the Times ran makes it look like the guide is holding the manatee in place (strictly forbidden) so the snorkelers have time to photograph and pet it. Very sad, if not illegal. 

Manatee swims near kayaker holding a camera underwater (photo Steve Sapienza)

Manatee swims near kayaker holding a camera underwater (photo Steve Sapienza)

As I wrote here last month, the highlight of our Crystal River, Fla., manatee-themed trip was the “Do Not Disturb” kayak tour sponsored by Save the Manatee Club and led by guide Matt Clemons, owner of Aardvark’s Florida Kayak Co.

It just so happened that Steve Sapienza, the Florida sales rep for Washington-state kayak maker Eddyline, landed in town that week for the winter. He came on the kayak tour to help out his pal Matt. Steve has a water-resistant camera, and whenever manatees would come near us, he’d simply place his hand underwater and shoot. I was amazed to see the outcome! Steve was thrilled that the Globe ended up putting his mother/calf photo on the Travel section front, and he’s letting us use his photos here as well.

Manatee almost touches Wessel`s kayak

Manatee almost touches Wessel`s kayak

This made us think that we must get Wessel a water resistant camera! Nonetheless, Wessel did an outstanding job of photographing the gentle giants from above.

I heard from Globe reader Jason Viola, who said he was happy to see a story that focused on not swimming with the manatees. Jason draws “Herman the Manatee,” a manatee comic strip, of all things, and sent me this one that reflects his similarly conflicted feelings about getting in the water with the creatures he so loves.

Manatee mania in Florida

January 6, 2009
Mother and baby manatee as seen from bridge

Mother and calf manatee as seen from a bridge in Crystal River, FL

“Oh how beautiful, oh baby. Hey baby.”

I cracked up when I heard a fellow kayaker say that to a manatee. These sea creatures are huge, with wrinkly noses that look like a elephant’s snout without a trunk. From above, their bodies look like, well, giant floating turds. But they do have that “hey, baby” effect on people. On Wessel and me, too.

We couldn’t get enough of the mammals last month in Florida, when we went to Citrus County, Fla., on the Gulf of Mexico, which could be renamed Manateeland, USA. Crystal River/Kings Bay is the winter home to hundreds of manatees. When the weather cools down, manatees, which need warm water to survive gather at the natural springs in the Crystal River area, which maintain a water temperature of 72 degrees (22°C) year round.

Manatee as Christmas tree ornament

Manatee as Christmas tree decoration

We saw manatee signs, trinkets, mailboxes, license plates, statues, Christmas decorations, and, of course, the celebrities themselves. We watched rehabilitated captive manatees being fed (they’re herbivores) at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, viewed groups of them, often a mother and calf, from a bridge in Crystal River, and were surrounded by them during our “Do Not Disturb” kayak trip through Save the Manatee Club. Having a manatee glide right under your kayak just below the water is quite the experience!! The average adult manatee is about 10 feet long and weighs between 800 and 1,200 pounds.

Matt Clemons (standing) during kayak trip convinced Diane to not swim with manatees

Matt Clemons (standing) during kayak trip convinced Diane to not swim with manatees

Our trip was led by one of the state’s top manatee advocates, Matt Clemons of Aardvark’s Florida Kayak Company, which donates 50 percent of the cost of the trip to Save the Manatee Club. In some ways, the manatees are being loved to death. There are now a slew of outfitters that take people out to snorkel around them, which means a couple dozen humans are descending on a pod of manatees. Some people say that the playful creatures initiate touching and appreciate human contact. Others say that touching manatees, even when the manatee goes first, upsets their natural balance in many ways unnoticed by the average person. Worse, they say, some snorkelers all out harass the endangered species, chasing them, blocking them, and even trying to ride them. I’ll be writing about this more in my upcoming story about them for the Boston Globe.

As I told Matt, I was annoyed with him because before I started reading up on the issue on his and the Save the Manatee website, I was very excited to “swim with the manatees.” Though I’d wanted to do it for years, I did have a nagging feeling all the while that it seem quite right. Matt and others confirmed that hunch, damn them!

Diane `swims` with manatee

Diane `swims` with the manatees after all

Actually, Wessel and I did end up swimming with the manatees, but not really in the conventional way, as you can see here. We also “adopted” Lily, a lovely lady who lives in Blue Spring State Park in Orange City. We didn’t make it to visit her this trip, because I needed to spend time with human relatives, but it’s on the list. If you’re interested in seeing manatees, here are some great spots to go in Florida. Just view from afar, please! And click here to see more of Wessel’s amazing manatee photos.