Snorkeling with Manatees – Three Sisters Springs (Crystal River, Florida)
We headed to Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge. Seeing manatees while snorkeling beside them has been on my bucket list since the beginning of our RV planning. It’s finally here! Inspiration to swim with the manatees came from several sources: Roadtrippers, National Geographic’s story – "When Push Comes to Shove" to the mention in our 1,000 Places to See Before You Die book.
506 NW 1st Ave
Crystal River, FL 34428
Private Boat Tour: $130
Current Temp: Low:64° – High:68° with Scattered Showers
One way: 61.40 miles from Fisherman’s Cove RV Park (without tolls!!!)
It was the warmest day of the week so no matter what today was the day to check out these "aquatic celebrities" of Kings Bay. It’s a controversial activity but I know I’ll respect the manatees. It was really a spontaneous morning decision to go and the first task as we drove towards Crystal River were to call a handful of the couple dozen shops that offered snorkeling tours to the warm springs. Plan A: Get in on a tour. Plan B: Rent a kayak and paddle ourselves to the manatees’ winter hang out. Everyone was sold out and fully booked but one company was kind enough to recommend someone who takes their overflow clientele for a private boat tour. For $130 we would have Captain Wayne White of Aquavision Manatee Tours, his boat and snorkeling equipment (if needed) from noon to 5pm.
Snorkeling with Manatees: What to Bring
– Snorkel mask (skip the fins)
– Camera (especially, an underwater camera)
– Drinks and snacks
– Jacket / Windbreaker
– Gratuity $$
Advantages for Going on a Crappy Day
"On a typical winter weekend Three Sisters Springs doesn’t look much like a wildlife refuge. Party barges, runabouts, kayaks, and swimmers crowd the narrow adjoining canal. Add some kegs of beer and blaring hip-hop, and it could be a fraternity party." –National Geographic
Raining, Cold and a Tuesday has its advantages. We saw only 2 other tour boats and about a dozen other people in the area snorkeling and only 1 kayaker.
I recreated a children’s rhyme to get even more in the mood:
♩♫ ♪ ♬ ♪ ♪
It’s raining… it’s pouring… the manatees are snoring.
we jumped aboard as not to get bored
then motored slowly to the springs late morning
♬ ♪ ♩♫ ♪ ♪
Guidelines of Manatee Viewing
Captain Wayne White had us watch a video about the springs and the manatees. Here’s a few things we learned before snorkeling with them:
– Avoid excessive noise and splashing.
– Don’t feed manatees.
– Never poke, prod or stab a manatee with your hands, feet or any object (i.e. camera).
– When swimming, use a froggy kick to get around (hence no fins for us).
– Do not pursue or chase a manatee.
– If a manatee avoids you, you should avoid it.
– Float at the surface. No diving.
– Recognize manatees that are sleeping.
– Remember you are in a manatee sanctuary.
– You are allowed to touch the manatees however you can only do so with one open hand.
Idle Speed zone so manatees are less likely to get injuries from boaters.
This big gray shadow of a manatee went right underneath our boat.
Many homes have signs showing their love for Manatees.
Getting excited spotting more and more of them.
We made it to Three Sisters Springs where dozens of manatees were in slumber behind ropes. Several park rangers monitor kayakers and snorkelers alike to make sure we give them distance and not cross these ropes.
Here we go… 2nd time to dawn my 4/3 wetsuit.
"At Kings Bay manatees have a near-perfect winter refuge. Dozens of springs scattered around the bay pump out fresh water at a constant 72°F year-round." –National Geographic
There are people here wearing fins. Personally, think that’s overkill. Seems like the ones sporting fins don’t really swim or have snorkeled before so all they’re doing is kicking the river’s bottom, other people and potentially the manatees. We’re working our froggy-kick as we float to observe these creatures. We stayed clear of those with the flippers.
Let the “swim-with” manatees program begin!
Bill passing all the sleeping manatees.
Did you know: "Manatees normally breathe every 2 to 5 minutes, but can stay submerged for as long as 20 minutes if necessary." –Ocean Research Group
This manatee just passed up Bill.
"Manatees can swim up to 20 miles per hour in short bursts, but they usually only swim about three to five miles per hour." –Save the Manatee
Observing what we’ve been told. If they come towards us, we are allowed to touch with one hand as they glide by.
Did you know: "Manatees are about 4-4.5 feet (1.2-1.4 m) long when they are born and average 60-70 pounds (27-32 kg). Full-grown manatees weigh between 800 to 1,200 pounds (360-545 kg) and reach 10 feet (3.0 m) in length. They can grow to be as large as 3,500 pounds (1590 kg) and 13 feet (4.0 m) in length…" –Dolphin Research Center
Did you know: "Manatees reproduce one calf every 2 to 5 years." –Florida Oceanographic Coastal Center
We Love Manatees… these Gentle Giants!
Normally, I can only snorkel for 15-30 minutes before starting to get seasick. I stuck it out for 2-2.5 hrs. Seasick and worth every second! The sun came out but so did the wind chill. Time to get back. Strip off of these wetsuits and blast the car heater.
Special thanks again to Captain Wayne White for providing these long, warm coats for us. It helped a great deal!
Complete Photo Gallery
QUESTION: Would you get in the water or be on a kayak to view these gentle giants?