Thursday, June 2, 2011

Birds Underwater Manatee Tour

This morning we were up early...5:15am early! Why? We had to get ready and get to Bird's Underwater by 6:15 to suit up and get out on the boat in search of manatees.

The girls suited up and ready to head out in the boat

In the winter there are thousands of manatees in this area. I had read somewhere that the manatees all swim away in late spring and seeing them this time of year is unlikely. The manatee do swim away in late spring but not all of them. There is a group that remains all year long contrary to popular belief and this made me very happy!

We contacted a few different tours in search of the right tour for us and we lucked out in quite a few ways with our tour. First off a group of 4 changed their tour from today with us to tomorrrow, so we had basically a private tour which costs a lot more then what we paid. We were the only ones on the boat other then Captain Chris.

Sighting have been fairly regular lately but mainly adult manatees who stick around a few minutes then high tail it away. Also there was a long weekend that was apparently crazy with boats in the water so the manatee were hiding for a couple of days.

We headed out with the hopes of seeing a couple manatee and hoping they were friendly enough to stick around for a swim with us...what we got was far beyond our expectations!

There are strick rules when swimming with the manatee which can be read HERE.

While feeding you have to be very careful not to disturb them or touch them. As they graze they stir up the water making it a bit merky and hard to see but amazing none the less.

This first manatee bolted after a few minutes so we were off to find another one. We found a young manatee who was very curious and a lot of fun. He would come right up to you and if you laid very still would "hug" you by holding onto your leg with his flippers. He really enjoyed being with us as we did with him. He played around with us and near the boat for about 20 minutes.

Next we found a mom and her baby which was less then a week old Chris thought. Chris was amazed even that mom didn't bolt away. Normally she says mom's with newborns will leave right away. This mom hung around with us as we watched her baby feed for about 15-20 minutes. A very cool experience!

From here we found a group of about 6 manatee close together. The adults didn't want much to do with us but there were two young manatee having a great time playing together. Since either Ian or me had to be on the boat with the girls Ian enjoyed these two for the full 15 minutes as I needed a break. He forgot the camera but we ended up buying the video and have some great shots of them playing.

Me and Aayla taken by Sierra

Self portrait by Sierra
We are now thinking the tour must be nearly over...nope we head to a different area and find one lone manatee feeding but the water is too dark and merky so we left after a few minutes.

Chris said we were going to head out to a place called 3 Sisters but on our way we found the most curious manatee yet. His mom and dad and baby brother/sister were nearby and he would swim off and check in with them, then come back to us and play. He loved to play with the ropes on the boat. He loved to twist and twirl through the water...a graceful manatee ballet...absolutely incredible to watch. He stayed with us for about 30-40 minutes. Then he hung around under the boat as we talked with another tour group that pulled in. We watched them interact with him for while and then had to head to shore.

Below the above water picture of Sierra touching the Manatee and then a below water picture as well.

Our time with the manatees was amazing. I am really at a loss for words to describe it. Having a manatee give you a hug, or watch them twirl around in the water, loving a belly scratch and coming back for more...a dream come true for me for sure. Something I have dreamed about since childhood and I feel very fortunate that certain places in Florida still allow you to do this.

I have been on Orca tours where you sit on a boat and watch them from a distance which is quite amazing, I have swam with dolphins in Hawaii at an aqaurium too, but neither are the same as being in a natural habitat, where the manatee have a choice to stay with you or not and when they choose to stay and play it truley is amazing!

Our tour had to come to an end but our memories will last for a lifetime. I highly recommend Birds Underwater Tours.

Our guide was very cautious of the rules and respectful of the manatee. We spent close to 4 hours out on the boat and Chris seemed like she enjoyed the day as much as we did. It wasn't just a job for is still thrilling everyday to share these waters with the manatee. Each tour a new experience for her too.

After returning to Rock Crusher Canyon RV we got another surprise. Within a period of about 5 minutes we saw 3 turtles. First was a little one that walked right through the campsite.

No sooner did I put the camera down and I had to pick it up again because there was a larger turtle walking towards the big hole beside our site.

And minutes later another turtle was walking through the site across from us.

So much excitement and a very early morning called for a Siesta and then pool time before supper. An amazing day for sure!

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