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March 2014    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Vol. 29, No. 3   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Snorkel with Manatees, Homosassa, Florida

“it’s like Disneyland in the water”

from the March, 2014 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

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Dear Fellow Diver:

West Indian manatees surrounded me. They were waiting for me as I stepped down the pontoon boat's sturdy ladder to slip quietly into the water. I could have even done a belly flop and not scared them away. One, the size of a large couch, nudged me from the left, another lifted me from below, and a third swished his whiskers along the right side of my face. Behind them, others appeared to be waiting their turn to get close. What attracted them to me, a human snorkeler? Obviously, they were curious as to what I was doing in their space.

Manatee with Her Nursing CalfA bulbous male, his face covered with warts (a condition known as cold stress syndrome), nudged me. I gently petted him. This is the only place where interaction with manatees is permissible. The dive operator, Snorkel with Manatees, was emphatic about the rules: no chasing; no diving below the surface to reach them; "do not disturb" while they are sleeping; no riding; and certainly no touching below their bellies "where their girl and boy parts are," especially the males, who might get aroused.

The manatees have small eyes, relative to their walrus- size physiques (they're as long as 13 feet and weigh as much as 3,500 pounds) and puckered cupid-like lips, and they literally beg to be cuddled. Some will roll over hoping for a scratch. It's an incredible experience to be body-to-body with these amazing endangered mammals....

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