Quietly kayaking through dark tanic channels upon channels, squinting at dark cold water looking for the giant blobs that we have come so far to see. It was a cold December day and the morning sky was still young. The mangroves were eerily quiet.
About a half hour into the paddle on the way to Three Sisters Springs, it happened. The first clue to what we have come for was evident, a big round nose sticking out of the water followed by a quick breath and gone. Then a giant upwelling of water soon followed. We were here. Soon, the surface of the water was bubbling with the movement of manatees trying to mate. It was like a large focused ball of manatee energy, each one trying to swim over top the next. It was hard to see as the water was still dark and murky. We stuck around here awhile until the sex ball dissipated, enjoying the fact that a once critically endangered animal, is going at it and working hard to repopulate the once almost manatee-less waters of Florida.
Chrystal River serves as a sanctuary for manatees when the Gulf of Mexico temperatures drop into the 60's. Manatees do not have a lot of blubber to keep them warm so they must find warm water to stay healthy and not get hypothermia. The Three Sisters Springs serves as a perfect place for manatees to spend the winter because the water temperature stays around 72 degrees year round. The water also gets crystal clear as you get closer to the source of the spring.
The manatees here are protected, even though it is one of the only places in the US where one can legally swim with manatees. In order to do so, one must follow a set of rules established by the refuge and US Fish and Wildlife. Manatees gather by the hundreds, sleeping throughout the day and munching on vegetation in the springs. A single adult manatee can eat 150 pounds of plants per day and are vital to maintaining the manatee and turtle grass beds found off the coast of Florida.
Swimming with the manatees was an other-wordly experience. It was like entering a party where you are drastically different then everyone there and all the party goers want to get to know you at the exact same time. Manatees are highly social and love to be scratched although it is discouraged to do so. They will force you to do it by running into you and grabbing your arms to rub it on themselves. The calfs are also extremely curious and will swim up to people and nudge them with their noses. This behavior stems from the natural lack of predators the manatees have due to their large size. Occasionally they will get preyed upon by sharks or orcas, but it is extremely rare. Their main threat is getting hit by boats in areas where manatees congregate. The best way to protect these animals is to observe boating speed limits and no wake zones in areas where manatees are present.
Connecting with nature in this fashion is undoubtedly special and builds the connection between manatees and people. Running Wild Media traveled to capture this delicate relationship and to bring back the experience to viewers. With the help of Kodak and JK Imaging, Running Wild captured the manatees in Chrystal River with 360 degree camera technology to share with people across the US. These videos will be available soon so check back for updates regarding exciting and one of a kind 360 degree views of the natural world.