Its that time of year again! The manatees are here, the manatees are here. From November to April, every year manatees seek out the warmer waters of the freshwater springs in Kings Bay, Crystal River, Florida. And almost every year, Oceanic Society sends a group of excited snorkelers my way to introduce them to our manatees.
This year we had a small but happy group from California who were expecting to see manatees in the distance. Little did they know that our manatees can be very curious and approach, calm, respectful snorkelers very closely. Because they stayed still in the water, our guests got lots of up-close attention from our beautiful manatees.
We had chilly weather which is perfect for attracting lots of manatees to the spring, so there was no shortage of opportunities to see these chubby sirens. Our guide estimated at least 200 animals were spread out across the many springs in the bay. We had the opportunity to see all kinds of manatee activity -- sleeping, swimming, grazing and even a cow nursing her calf. Towards the end of the second day, we even spotted a matting herd evident from the tail slaps and rigorous splashing.
Our happy explorers also enjoyed an airboat tour of the Withlacootchee Swamp and saw several wild alligators and an endangered wood stork.
All in all, it was a wonderful weekend for guests and manatees alike.
Samantha Whitcraft holds a bachelor in Natural Sciences from Harvard University and earned her master of Marine Affairs and Policy at the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. As a conservation biologist, she has worked with National Geographic, WildAid and local communities to research and develop sustainable ecotourism and "citizen science." A resident of Florida, her fieldwork has taken her to the Amazon, Kiribati, the Bahamas, Fiji, and the Galapagos.