Swimming with Manatees - Homosassa River
Our first real swim with the manatees occurred in the springs warm flow area just beyond the manatee sanctuary markers. The air temperature was relatively warm for that time of the year, meaning that the wild manatees where not in the springs as heavily as they would normally be for early January. (For all their size, manatees have very little body fat, and must seek refuge at warm water sites during the winter months, or risk catching cold or pneumonia which may kill the animal.)
During our first swim we found few manatees eager to interact with people - most seemed like they just wanted to rest. We kept our distance and didn't interrupt - which was a little disappointing.
One interesting behavior I noticed that first day was how the manatee can fall asleep almost in mid-swim, doing a nose-dive maneuver to a face-plant on the river bottom, with a billow of sediment rising. It seems that the "lights" would just go out and the animal slowly fall to the bottom where it may rest for several minutes before rising for air.
I also learned that some manatees don't seem to wake-up when it's time to rise and take new air in. They would rise and loudly exhale, then equally loudly inhale, nostrils then closed and the animal would again sink to the floor - resuming it's three-point stance, oblivious to the swimmers around him.
Manatees do not exhale underwater, instead they use that air to help them rise to the surface and take the next breath. They must have incredible control of their lungs, and can shift the air around inside their bodies to control their buoyancy seemingly effortlessly. Dr. Lowe had explained the day before how the manatee's large ribs do not contain a marrow core - instead they are solid bone - adding needed weight to the animal for "ballast".
Call the Wildlife Alert Hotline 1-888-404-FWCC (3922) or *FWC/#FWC, or use VHF Channel 16 on your marine radio if you see an injured, dead, tagged, or orphaned manatee, or if you see a manatee being harassed.
Manatee News Blog