Do’s and Don'ts When Meeting A Manatee

Manatees are docile creatures that gravitate to Crystal River, Florida, to soak in the warm spring-fed waters of Kings Bay and Three Sisters Springs.

Manatees are docile creatures that gravitate to Crystal River, Florida, to soak in the warm spring-fed waters of Kings Bay and Three Sisters Springs.

Despite their large size, manatees don’t have much blubber, and can get cold stress and die in water temperatures below 68 degrees. Kings Bay is a constant 72-degrees, so hundreds of the curious creatures spend their winters there.

From November through the end of March, Crystal River is home to the largest aggregation of manatees in the natural world. Crystal River has the unique distinction of being the only place in the United States where you can legally interact with — and literally get up close and personal with — a threatened species, the manatee.

“When people come here, whether they swim with the manatees or view them from the boardwalk, it’s an amazing experience,” said Joyce Palmer, a Wildlife Refuge Manager with the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge Complex. “Our hope is that when they leave, they will take that experience with them and go beyond that and want to protect them and their habitat.

When you visit, there are few things to remember to keep the manatees safe and protected. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service asks you to "Mind Your Manatee Manners" when swimming, boating, paddling, or viewing these sweet, docile sea cows.

Do’s:

  1. Practice Passive Observation: That means look, but don’t touch, or even approach a manatee, especially when one is resting.
  2. Be chill: Whether swimming or viewing the manatees from the scenic boardwalk that surrounds Three Sisters Springs, don’t yell, splash around, or make a lot of noise. Loud noises and sudden moves can spook these gentle manatees.
  3. Dress for the occasion: Wear a wetsuit and snorkel gear. The wetsuit will help you float, keeping you close to the surface and not on the bottom where the manatees are resting.
  4. Knock first, but silently: Make your presence known with a dive flag within 100 feet of where you will be swimming.
  5. Mellow out: Swim slowly and quietly, avoid splashing, or blowing bubbles under water, which can scare the manatees.
  6. Keep it clean: Keep feet and fins off the bottom to avoid kicking up sand to maintain visibility.
  7. Manatees first: Give manatees the right of way. I mean they were there first, right?
  8. Slow down: Obey speed zones. Boats are the biggest threat to manatees and, unfortunately, many manatees are killed every year by boat strikes.
  9. Pay attention: Learn to recognize the manatees “footprint.” Look for the large circles on the surface of the water and slow down when boating near them.
  10. Look around: Be aware of where you are boating especially if you are in shallow water with grasses, which the manatees munch on nearly 8-10 hours a day.
  11. Wear shades: Polarized sunglasses when boating and paddling will help you better see manatees in the water.
  12. Pass it on: Teach your children good manatee manners. Little ones can learn to appreciate these lovable creatures and how to help protect their habitat as they grow up.

Don’ts:

  1. Don’t touch: Don’t poke, or prod a manatee with anything, including your hands and feet.
  2. Don’t chase: Don't pursue, corner or otherwise disturb a manatee. These lovable manatees are curious, so if you float and remain still, they may swim up to you. "It’s a fine line between watching a manatee and chasing, or pursuing over one," explained Palmer.
  3. Don’t hold: Don't hug, pinch or a manatee. Though they might look huggable, manatees are wild animals and scare easily.
  4. Don’t dive: Don't dive onto a manatee or into an area where manatees are resting.
  5. Don’t ride: Don't climb on or put a child on a manatee.
  6. Don’t step: Don't stand or step on a manatee.
  7. Don’t approach: Don't approach a mating herd.
  8. Don’t separate: Don't get between a mother and her calf or try to separate a manatee from a group.
  9. Don't feed: Don’t give a manatee anything to eat or drink.
  10. Don’t enter: Don't enter a manatee sanctuary. The sanctuaries are there for the manatees to get away from humans when they want to and are off-limits to swimmers and boaters.
  11. Don’t initiate contact: Don't interact with a belted or tagged manatee or touch any equipment attached to a manatee.
  12. Don’t interfere: Don't get in the way of manatee research or rescue activities. Let’s all do our part to help manatees continue to thrive.

To learn whether water access (swimming with the manatees) through Three Sisters Springs is open, visit the Crystal River Wildlife Refuge’s Facebook page.

Check out Gulf temperatures at the mouth of the Crystal River, here.