So, I recently snuck out of town and flew to Florida (FL) with one of my besties…..against my better judgement I might add. Airports and planes don’t bother me so much, but there’s not a whole lot of mask wearing in FL. Way different than the streets of Boulder, Colorado.
We went the week before Christmas with the naive hope that crowds would be smaller. Nope, everyone was flying to Florida and doing all the things. Sigh. We walked around in our masks to be as safe as possible, sweating like pigs all the while.
95% of what we did on this trip was outdoors, so that helped. For instance, one of my bucket list wishes has been to see a Manatee in the wild. What a better way to do this than on a kayak? My limited research took us to Lover’s Key outside of Fort Myers, FL.
There were a few other primo Manatee viewing options nearby, but I thought we might have some time to explore the area. The Lover’s Key beach is supposed to be pretty nice. However, our kayak excursion was a bit of a death march to get the equipment back to the amazingly unfriendly desk clerk, Linda. We failed to deliver on time and probably proved Linda’s point – whatever that point was.
What’s a Manatee?
They are some of the most adorable and unique animals on the planet – at least in my opinion. Right up there with Pandas, Koala Bears, Elephants and Kangaroos.
I won’t give you ALL the stats on these babies, but here are a few things I nicked from the Smithsonian and National Wildlife Federation websites:
- These large, slow-moving marine mammals hang out in coastal areas and rivers – the Manatees in FL are the West Indian species – also know as “Sea Cows”.
- Once they reach adulthood, manatees average 10 feet (three meters) in length and weigh between 800 to 1,200 pounds (360 to 540 kilograms).
- West Indian manatees spend their lives on the cusp between salty and fresh water. They are able to maintain the correct balance in their bodies through an internal regulation system that works with the kidney to make sure salt concentrations never get too high
- Manatees evolved from the same land animals as elephants over 50 million years ago
- Christopher Columbus and other early explorers claimed to have seen female figures swimming in the ocean—the mermaids in the writings and drawings of this era. Whether they had been at sea for too long or it was a trick of the light, we now know that many of these encounters were with manatees.
- Manatees have no natural predators in the wild but humans have played a large part in making all three species at risk of extinction. BOO.
- Manatees are protected under the Endangered Species Act and under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Today, the range-wide population is estimated to be at least 13,000 manatees, with more than 6,500 in the southeastern United States and Puerto Rico.
LOOK AT THAT FACE
How did we find them?
We got to the kayak rental kiosk LATE in the afternoon, about 2.5 hours before sundown. Once we were in the water (this park is a mangrove protected estuary), we started heading north, not really knowing what to look for or where we would end up. On an amazing day, you may bump into Manatees, Alligators, Dolphin, Eagles, etc.
We passed 8 different people, 4 hadn’t seen a thing (other than birds) and seemed pretty disappointed. The other 4 mentioned they had seen 6 Manatees (6!) at the very end of the canal – 2.5 miles away.
Once we heard there were 6 within reach, we hauled buns as fast as we could to get to the end. I thought FOR SURE my friend would not be up for the intense paddling that ensued, but she was totally down with it (I’ll be forever grateful to her for doing this). Nothing like paddling into the wind – coming and going. Ugh.
What did we see?
To make a long story short, by the time we made it to the primo viewing spot, we had 5 minutes to see as many Manatees as we could, which meant we saw 3 (maybe). We weren’t sure if we saw the same one twice! It didn’t matter, it was a huge thrill for me. Had we had more time, we probably would have seen something like the image below. They will come up for air at some point! I would have probably fallen over if I these little faces greeted me in the water (right in the Jaws of an Alligator!).
However, since we were kayaking in brackish water, and literally had 5 minutes, this was our view (below) and one I am grateful for! I also saw a silhouette of one under D’s kayak.
In the end, after a 2 hour tour, I left this experience with a great memory of seeing a couple of grey-ish/brown humps and a silhouette, sportin’ some pumped up biceps and paying a late fee for the kayak return. It was such a FUN day….I am thirsty for more. Next time I will plan a specific trip around these critters AFTER the COVID crisis passes.
Maybe I’ll even see a face and skip the Linda experience entirely.
…i choose this…