I do not have to travel far to be in the midst of wildlife, the feathery kind that perch in the branches of the mangroves (herons and egrets) or those massive creatures of the water that find their way up our canal to our dock.
Living at the end of a finger canal that leads into the main waterway that leads into the bay that leads into the Gulf of Mexico (you get the picture) has its advantages. It provides a sanctuary for the West Indian manatees plus the water temperature is warm which is to their liking.
Curious creatures, they will come up to the dock and raise their head as if to greet us, take a breath and submerge or just float like a raft.
Our greatest thrill was when a female introduced her newly born to us. Look at those blue eyes…just like Paul Newman. The calf nursed and nuzzled under its mother’s flipper getting the nourishment it needs to grow to its 10-12 feet, 1000 pound size. Gestation is usually 13 months and the calf will stay with its mother for up to two years. We have had as many as eight manatees of varying sizes appear at one time. Resembling large flat boulders scattered in the water, they remind me of stepping stones. Being an herbivorous, aquatic mammal, we have observed them reaching up to eat the mangrove leaves. They spend about eight hours a day grazing on sea grasses and vegetation.
Other times we have observed splashing, thrashing, rolling and even doing somersaults which usually means there is sexual activity going on. Because there is no mating season, this can occur any time.
I’m always saddened at the scars these “sea cows” often bear. This is a result of boat and ship propellers. According to Wikipedia, manatees hear at a high frequency and many boats emit very low frequencies which confuse the manatee.
There are organizations formed to protect the manatee as well as educate the public of the hazards of hitting one. Boating regulations require slow speeds in certain areas and seasons, but often go ignored.
Along Florida’s Crystal River, there are boat tours designed for swimming with the manatees. We haven’t tried this, but I do want to check it out. Sounds safe, fun and educational. They run about $40.
When our grandchildren visited in May, we went to Sanibel Island by boat to swim and shell. A most surprising thing happened. About a dozen manatees appeared and stayed in the shallows for hours allowing swimmers to touch them as they glided by. The grandchildren were excited and took home a memory of “swimming with the manatees.”
What a thrill! Nature is wonderful. And this was free.
All photos by Ron Mayhew Photohraphy.