They come from all over the world, rolling in at around 6:15. In the morning; and it’s dark. Some are sleepy, some are hungry, many wondering if either we or they are crazy for being here this early, but mostly they’re all excited. The other captains and I gear them up, give them a briefing, then take them out to get into the warm, clear water of some of the best known springs in the world of diving – King’s Spring and Three Sisters Springs. They’re about to snorkel with manatees!
It’s wintertime, which is the best time to see the most manatees in the clearest water, so the air is pretty cold. That makes the warm spring water the place to be. As we anchor up at the site we choose for the day, a few manatees actually approach the boat. They’re waiting for us to hurry up and get into the water. Unencumbered by SCUBA, snorkelers are free to interact with these gentle giants, the West Indian Manatee. But most of our masks and snorkels are leaking and it’s a good thing. They’re leaking because we’re grinning so much we can’t keep our gear in place. Calves are rolling over like puppies and their mothers nudge them out of the way for attention of their own. And the manatees surround you. And, with their massive size, they’ll sometimes scare you. But they will never harm you. Instead, they’ll thrill you with their curiosity and gentleness. Nowhere in nature is there an animal with as much willingness to interact with us. Especially fun today was the manatee chewing on a woman’s pony tail, who then went over to someone else and pulled on the zipper of his wetsuit. That gave him a good laugh until the manatee pulled harder and gave him a shot of water down his back. That’ll be enough playing around now, kids.
Some snorkelers are just floating along near the manatee Sanctuary, set up by US Fish & Wildlife Service to give them a place to rest. They watch the manatee sleep, cavort, or nurse their calves. Everyone stays as long as they can, enjoying the incredible number of manatees today. Typically, as though by some silent signal, everyone start heading back to the boat at pretty much the same time. Maybe spring water isn’t that warm after all.
Everyone is changing into warm, dry clothes and enjoying some doughnuts with hot coffee or cocoa. Now’s the time to socialize. Let’s meet the customers: we have a Cave and Trimix instructor, along with a few students off-gassing before their flight back to Russia. Another instructor from a shop in Virginia Beach has a few students, also. There is a family from Minnesota, a non-swimming grandmother from Dallas, and a group of gifted science students from a middle school in Georgia. As usual, it is quite the mix. Yep, the wetsuit and a kid’s noodle gave the grandmother all the buoyancy she needed to have a great time!
Florida is the diving capital of the world for good reason. We have a tremendous diversity of environments. Here at Bird’s we train and guide students from open water up through becoming Cave and Trimix instructors. We have to drive a few hours to see the pretty reefs with all the tropical fish, but we have a different beauty in our springs, caverns, and caves. You can be the next ones to have a great time here. Almost everyone comes to Florida to dive at some point. Come and visit us while you’re here.
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