Crystal River, Florida calls itself the Home of the Manatee. This small town, located on the west coast of Florida alongside the Gulf of Mexico, is unique in that it’s the only place in the United States where one is allowed to swim alongside these friendly and gentle giants, who are harmless and lack any system of defense. Federal and state laws attempt to provide manatees with as much protection as possible.
Other than in Crystal River, law enforcement considers that for a person even to approach a manatee is illegal harassment. The typical manatee is about 9 feet long and weighs 1000 pounds but, despite its size, it’s an endangered species and deaths from boat strikes are frequent.
|Manatees are elephants cousins
|Save the Manatee Florida license plate
Like Pat and me, the manatee spends most of its time eating, resting and in travel. Like Pat and me also, it needs to swim in warm water. Prolonged exposure to water temperatures below 68 degrees Fahrenheit leads to its death and that sad fact brings us back to the little town of Crystal River. In winter, the waters of the Gulf of Mexico can become surprisingly cool – except in Crystal River. The town spreads itself around picturesque Kings Bay, which is fed by 50 springs keeping water in the bay at a year round temperature of at least 72 degrees Fahrenheit. Consequently, Kings Bay is home to over 400 manatees during winter.
Florida welcomes many visitors from Canada and the northern part of the United States during the winter months. We call them “snowbirds from up north”, who are wise enough to avoid the cold weather. The manatees in Kings Bay during winter are similarly motivated and are intelligent. Manatees are curious and possess a long term memory, which must be useful when the waters of the Gulf start to cool. Oddly enough, they don’t much care whether they are swimming in freshwater or sea water. They also talk to each other by making a wide range of sounds. They hear well, despite the absence of ear lobes, and can differentiate colors.
|Crystal River marina
|Pat, Bob and Tara Patten on Crackers dock
|Crackers Bar and Grill in Crystal River
|Tara, Pat and Bob Patten at the Wild Life Refuge
When we next visited our favorite bar in Lake County, Florida, about 50 miles to the east of Crystal River, it was much busier than usual. Snowbirds from up north had been arriving. Like the manatees, they were intelligent and talkative. The pleasure of their company compensated us for our failure in Crystal River to meet a real live manatee.
This piece, written by Bob, was originally posted on our website on September 27, 2013.