It’s 6 am on a Saturday morning, and two of my freshman floormates and I are getting ready to make a two-hour drive. It’s mid-January and even in Florida the temperature is a crisp 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Despite the chilly weather, we are driving to Cyststal River to swim in Three Sisters Spring. The weather isn’t conducive to swimming in a spring. Even if said spring is a perfect 72 degrees Fahrenheit year around.
The colder the weather outside the better for this adventure. Every winter, Crystal River and the springs on it become home to hundreds of West Indian Manatees or Sea Cows. The springs provide a warm shelter from the cold oceans. These slow moving peaceful creatures are endangered because of humans. Motor boats regularly hit, injure, and kill these slow moving animals. Then you have the loss of habitat, but thanks to the recent conservation efforts, manatees are making their return.
We arrived at the boat dock and picked up our rental gear. A quick change and briefing on swimming with manatees. Due to the endangered status there are several rules that are designed to protect the manatees. We jump out of the boat and make the short swim to the entrance to the spring. As we approach the water entrance we get to see our first manatee. This massive animal is slowly swimming towards the sanctuary. There are several of these sanctuaries set-up along the river. They are posted with signs and marked with buoys. These zones are protected areas for the manatees that don’t want to be around humans.
Just past the sanctuary, it’s the official entrance to Three Sisters Spring. We swim up the entrance following a manatee. He leads us into the Sisters. We are greeted by one of his many friends. Many of the manatees enjoy being petted. There are also a couple like this guy who don’t seem to understand that the no harassing rule should go both ways. He likes to be petted and if you stop, he will bother you until you start petting him again. After a couple of minutes, we successfully pawn him off on someone else from our tour group.
We start exploring the spring and meeting the various manatees in the area. We keep our distance from the ones sleeping at the bottom of the springs. Towards the back of one of the springs, we come across a mom and her calf. We stop and watch her swim by with the calf.
We are standing in one of the shallow areas, when one of the manatees decides he wants to swim through our group. One of my friends backs up to make space, not realized that this manatee has a friend swimming behind here. She trips over this manatee. We all share a laugh as one of the volunteers glare at us. “Don’t ride the manatees” She yells at us. We stop laughing and tell her that it was an accident and she fell over it.
After about three hours, we are starting to get cold. When we are approached by one of our group member who tells us its time to leave. As we swim back with him, we learn that everyone else has been back at the boat for an hour. The guide seems a little miffed that someone had to come get ups. We had asked for a return time. It was our first experience with manatees and we were going to make the most of it. Who knows when our next free weekend would be?
Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored article. I did my research and pick this tour because of reputation, price, and tour availability.
Do you want to go snorkeling with Florida manatees?