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A trip to Orlando usually brings a close encounter with a certain mouse, not to mention hours in line at a theme park or two. Well, we visited the area last week and decided instead to explore the natural side of Orlando. Our "featured" activity was kayaking with the manatees on the Crystal River, about 90 minutes northwest of the city.
Before leaving home, we had booked a three-hour guided trip with Aardvark Kayaking. During the cooler winter months, West Indian manatees or sea cows migrate from the chillier St. Johns River to warmer waters inland. These large, gentle mammals (averaging 800-1,200 pounds) are an endangered species. Many of them carry scars from their run-ins with boat propellers, their largest threat.
I really wasn't sure what to expect from this trip, although I had imagined a wildlife setting. As it turned out, we never really left civilization behind and didn't cover much distance. But we did see lots of manatees -- at least 20 during our three-hour tour. They are interesting to watch as they slowly glide through the water and pass directly under your boat. It's a little unsettling at first to be sitting in this small watercraft and realize that a 1,000 pound animal is headed your way!
Our guide explained that manatees can sense where their bodies are and will rarely if ever bump a kayak. They were close enough to touch, although we were advised not to do that. Humans often think that because these large mammals come so close and are gentle, that they are looking to be petted. Some places even allow swimming with the manatees -- for a fee, of course. But the reality is that when humans disturb these creatures, it can cause a mother and calf to be separated.
I'll write another post soon about an orphaned manatee we saw earlier in the week and also fill you in about kayking in the Wekiva River. For now, I would say that if you are lucky enough to have the opportunity to kayak with manatees -- do it!