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The Time We Kayaked With Manatees

That looks like it’s losing air“, she said as she passed us in a kayak much sturdier than that of our inflatable.

“It is”, we replied, indicating that two of the three chambers of our kayak had punctures. “Thankfully they’re manatees and not sharks!”

Despite dozens of kayakers, the river was still.  There was no movement, and no sound.  The only noise was a gentle whistle of air persistently escaping our slowly deflating kayak.

And then the silence was broken by a sound similar to that of a dolphins blowhole; a manatee nose protruding from the murky water for air.

But just as quickly as his nose would surface, it would disappear.  Two dozen kayakers would whip around with cameras ready, but it was always too late; another nose surfacing in the opposite direction and vanishing back into the water before they had fully turned to catch the last.


All we could catch was a nose protruding from the water for air.

And so the game of hide and seek continued throughout the afternoon.  We were sharing the water with over a dozen manatees, all who seemed to be taunting and tormenting us with their quick disappearing act.

Each time we would paddle to where they had been, we would hear the tell tale sound they had surfaced from where we just were.  They were teasing us.

But we were poised with cameras ready; focused hunters determined to get our shot no matter how long we had to wait.

We knew they were there – during the cool winter months when the temperatures of the Gulf of Mexico dips below 68 degrees F, dozens of endangered Florida manatees seek refuge from the cold waters by swimming into the Florida Power and Light warm water discharge canal. This non-captive manatee sanctuary at Manatee Park provides a winter haven for these warm-blooded native mammals that live along the coast of Florida.

Visitors to the park have the option of spotting manatees from viewing platforms, or kayaking out into the open Orange River for an up close and personal experience. There is also the opportunity to partake in educational programs as you tour the park – more than a manatee sanctuary, it is an outdoor classroom for visitors of all ages.

After training our eyes for long enough, we began able to predict when and where a manatee would surface; deep orange scars on their bodies from boat propellers shone through the dim water like a beacon.

As we put our feet up determined to wait them out, our boat was launched sideways by something too strong to be a current.  A manatee was pushing us.


Pushing our boat!


Coming up for air – right next to our boat!

She swam along side our kayak with her baby, close enough for us to touch.

Overcome by an incredible sense of awe, we almost forgot to take our shot.

Over the course of the afternoon manatees became easier to spot.  They came in all shapes and sizes, would pass directly under our kayak, and would pop up at our side, scaring the absolute daylights out of us when our focus was in the opposite direction.

Despite the number of canoes and kayaks on the water, the area was not overcrowded, and the manatees remained ever present.

Every half hour we would re-pump the chambers of our kayak so to not sink.


Slowly losing air due to punctures in our kayak!


Re-pumping every half hour to stay afloat!


Poised with cameras ready to shoot!

Feet up, waiting for the manatees to surface.

Feet up, waiting for the manatees to surface.


Kayaking on Orange River, Manatee Park.

“This was a blast!” I said to Mike.

“Yes”, she said, overhearing our conversation, “but where you really want to head is Crystal River”.

Our Crystal River Adventure Coming Soon

Manatee Park is located at 10901 Palm Beach Blvd Fort Myers, FL 33905.

1.3 miles east on S.R 90 (I-75 Exit 141).

You cannot swim with or touch the manatees here.

Entrance to the park is free.

Parking fees vary seasonally;

  • December 1st – March 31st 2014 $2 per hour or maximum of $5 per vehicle, per day.
  • April 1st November 30th $1 per hour or maximum $5 per vehicle, per day.
  • $20 per tour bus per visit.
  • $10 per tour van per visit.

Kayak/Canoe rental starts from $15 per hour.  There is no charge for individual kayak launch.

Manatee Park is open from 8am – sunset.

Manatees are present from November – March each year (winter).

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Megan is an Australian Journalist who has been travelling and blogging since 2007, with the main aim of inspiring others to embark on their own worldwide adventure. Her husband Mike is an American travel photographer, and together they have made the world their home.

Committed to bringing you the best in adventure travel from all around the globe, there is no mountain too high, and no fete too extreme! They haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on their list.

Follow their journey on Facebook, TwitterYouTube, Pinterest and Instagram.


  1. Manatees really are gorgeous! It’s great that you were able to predict when they’d surface as the day wore on. Learning the rhythms of an animal is such a special thing.

    • They’re such amazing creatures – so adorable!! It took a few hours, but we eventually learned their behavior – it was a really fabulous day :)

  2. This awesome!! What an incredible experience
    I have never seen Manatees in the wild, glad you included the information if I make it down that way.

    Two years ago I was photographing the lighthouse on Race Point in Cape Cod Massachusetts when a family of whales were watching me from just off the shore, they were about 25 from the beach breaching the water, calling out and bobbing up and down almost as if they were watching me. I ended up scraping the shoot to enjoy the whales and even ended up putting a video on YouTube, it was a highlight of my year but only wish I had a longer lens with me.

    Thanks for sharing

    • Definitely if you get the chance, head on down to Manatee Park – it’s such an incredibly experience at such a low cost!

      Wow your whale experience sounds phenomenal! I would have ended up scrapping the shoot as well!! We’ve learned to never travel anywhere without our cameras now, even on just a short walk from home, because you really never know what you might walk into!!

      I hope you end up getting your longer lens :)

  3. Their little noses are soo adorable!

    • I know!!! Never got bored!

  4. Am dying to get to Crystal River soon to swim with them! We went on a manatee watch in Belize but weren’t too successful unfortunately :( Sounds like a fun time!

    • Definitely have to try out Crystal River then! Noted if we ever get to Belize to probably skip it :)You’re guaranteed here in Florida though :D!


    Amazing. I love this. What an experience.

    • I can’t wait to get back!

  6. Great story brought back some memories. We spent several months travelling in the USA Our time at Crystal River swimming with the manatee was one of the highlights of our trip.

    • I’ve heard wonderful things about Crystal River! We did go there but I guess we went on a bad day, was super crowded with tourists and hardly any Manatees. Though if we get back to FL I’d love to give it another go because everyone raves about it. Perhaps we’ll aim for an early morning excursion to avoid the crowds :D

  7. Interesting! Thank you for sharing. The name of “manatee”, in Chinese, it means “cow in the sea”. But its nose just like a pig, not a cow! Haha!

    • Crazy! I knew that they were referred to as sea cows, but had no idea there was a direct translation there from Chinese. I assumed it was because they sat at the bottom of the sea and ate grass lol :D Learn something new every day!

  8. You got so close to the manatee, your pictures are amazing. I love kayaking so I have got to try this sometime, it sounds like a great experience.

    • Thanks Rob! We were amazed at how close they came, literally could have reached out and touched them!

      Hope you have the chance to jump in a Kayak at Manatee Park soon :)

  9. Hi Meg, you look great in pictures, Manatees is one of my favorite animals, and kayaking is one of my favorite sports, so kayaking with Manatees is one of the dreams in life. thank you for sharing with us this post

    • So glad you enjoyed the post Larry. Hope you have the chance to visit Florida and kayak with Manatees soon :)

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