Thursday, February 12, 2009

"The Great Manatee Adventure"1/11/09

Cody:About 4 days ago my friend Davin, who I went to school with in California and is now working in Alaska, called me and told me that he was going to be in Florida for a couple days with a friend. We imediatelly worked out a way to see each other and he told me that they were going to go snorkeling with the manatees in Crystal River which was only 1.5 hrs from orlando. Erika and I only had minimal classes that day and decided that we were going to drive and see the manatees with them. We had to be at the dive shop at 7am and since we were a little over 1.5hrs away, we had another early morning to look forward to. The alarms started buzzing at 4am and we were on the road by 4:30am. The roads are very enjoyable at 4:30 in the morning, there seems to be a sense of adventure that can't be experienced in any other capacity. After we arrived at the dive shop, Davin and Ashley were already there getting checked in, so we followed their lead and signed in, payed our money and then waited around until the entire group showed up. We talked to the owner of the dive shop for a while who was a retired commercial diver. We found out that he helped move a German submarine (U-505) to Chicago where it is now on display and you can actually walk through it in a tour. This was the same submarine that I personally walked through when I was a child and we visited my moms brother, Paul who lives in Chicago. He also worked with Carl Brashear, an african american navy diver who lost his left leg in an atomic bomb incident in the 1950's, and who was the inspiration for the movie "Men of Honor".

After talking with the old "salty dog" we had to watch a movie on Manatee conservation and interaction that must have been made near the beggining of time cause it was very old and very cheesy, but it was very informative and gave us the information we needed to interact with the manatees in a safe manner. We were told how to approach the animals, when to leave them alone, and that we were only allowed to touch them with one hand because touching them with two hands is considered "riding" them. After the video, we followed the divemaster to the docks and loaded the large pontoon boat and headed out to search for some manatee's. While we were idling around the river in what seemed to be a wild goose chase, the divemaster was telling us all about the "west indian manatee" and how to spot one from the boat. We finally spotted one and started moving toward it, and it quickly moved away from us. So the divemaster got in the water to try and find some himself. After a couple of minutes, he yelled back to the boat and said that he found some manatee's and told us to get into the water and swim over to him. Davin was the first in the water and I was second in the water because we both had big bulky cameras that had to come with us. After I had gotten into the water, I was waiting for erika and checking my camera to make sure everything was working properly. Suddenly I felt my fin hit something hard, which startled me a bit. I looked down and directly under me was a 6 or 7 ft manatee gliding through the water with not a care in the world. After everyone got in the water we swam over to the divemaster where he was playing with a mother and her calf. The mother was just sleeping at the bottom of the river, but the juvenile was very playful and would come right up to us and let us rub his belly and back. He would roll over and over with very playful gestures, and every so often he would swim back to his mother for a reasuring nudge and then return to us for some more belly scratching. The water was only 6 or 7 ft deep and the bottom of the river was very silty, which meant that as soon as people started standing up and kicking the bottom, the visibility got very poor very quickly. We only had a couple of minutes to get good, clear pictures and then the visibility was so bad that shooting our cameras was only catching fuzzy images.

We discovered that there were 7 or 8 manatees in the area that we were in, so the 10 of us all split up and would go observe in different areas until we got sick of that spot and moved to another. The manatee's were not quite as playful as we had hoped but it was still a great experience to be able to play with these wild creatures who had no fear towards humans and let us play with them in their environment. After about 2 hrs we all got back into the boat and drove back to the dock. We started driving back to orlando and grabbed something to eat on the way, and after another 1.5 hr trip were back home where we all sat by the pool for a couple hrs and then Davin and Ashley had to drive to Key Largo for the rest of their trip.

Erika: The manatees reminded me of eeyore from winne the pooh. Their faces looked like they had many years behind them--even the baby. They were friendly, and their body gave them no other choice but to be docile. Our guide reminded us that they lack one vertebrae that would allow them to turn their neck to see who or what was behind them...So they slowly and move there whole body pivoting just one of there small fins(compared to there massive bodies) in a circle to turn around. After the 2hrs in the water we were getting pretty we left with the wisdom of a manatee :D Don't move to fast, everytime is the right time for a nap, and between napping and eating seagrass PLAY.

The boat ride out to the manatee's
Erika thought she saw a shark... but it wasnt!
Erika seemed quite suprised by the temperature of the water (72deg)
Erika floating in the water with rays of sunshine piercing the water
Our first manatee, she was quite large
Mother and Calf sunning themselves.
I just had to touch it...
Mother sleeping while her calf played with us.
Still sleeping, they seem to be quite lazy creatures.
Erika and I
Us again...
and again...

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