Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Manatees, Part Deux

One of our cameras seems to have gone missing, so I won't have dolphin pics, but we did see dolphins in King's Bay, near Crystal River, FL, while we were waiting for our boat to arrive for our manatee tour.

It was really neat. A small pod (podlet?) of about 4 dolphins appeared, directly beside the dock we were standing on. They seemed to be corralling a school of fish into a small cove, swirling around and around. Then we saw them leaping around as fish jumped out of the water. One dolphin 'stood' with his head out of the water and his mouth open, just waiting for the fish to jump into his mouth. It was quite amazing to see! The kids with us were in complete awe of this spectacle, being typical city dwellers. Frankly, we adults were quite impressed too.

Idle speed, please! Watch out for manatees.
A few other manatee facts which I didn't squeeze into my first post. Captain Casey shared with us that while many manatees have scars on their bodies from boat propellers, these wounds are rarely fatal and will heal up. What is more deadly to manatees are ship bows (prows?) (the pointy part at the front of the boat). If boats are going too fast, manatees can't get out of the way and the sudden impact will cause significant blunt force trauma like broken ribs which can puncture their lungs or cause other internal injuries. Many manatee habitats will have posted speed limits requiring boaters to go no faster than an idle through these zones.

As you can see from the picture to the left, the water wasn't that deep. We snorkelers were fairly close to the manatee.

Our guide was very clear about the rules to ensure the manatees weren't harassed. There are pretty steep fines for diving down below the surface to touch a manatee or interfere with its feeding/sleeping.In fact, I believe he said that the only time you could touch a manatee was if it came to you and interacted with you, and if you are part of a licensed tour operator. If you're just out on your own swimming in the springs and a Wildlife officer noticed you playing with the manatees, you could get a warning to leave them alone. But don't quote me on that.

Captain Casey also mentioned that on this particular bay there was some tension between residents who owned boating or other aquatic sport equipment and those who want to protect the manatees. A special sporting zone has been set up to provide a stretch of the river where boats/seadoos can go faster than at an idle. Apparently some people want to be able to go fast and don't see why their fun should be restricted because of these gentle herbivores.

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