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.
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.
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.
“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).