Thou shalt not disturb the manatee from its activity
It is often said that imitation is the highest form of flattery. Though many manatee swim-tour companies might use this phrase as an advertising gimmick, I have been developing it as a teaching philosophy since I arrived in Citrus County in 2006. I’ve worked at many tour companies since then, when I joined the team at Crystal River Kayak Company in 2015, I brought this philosophy with me. Newly re-branded, Crystal River Kayak Company and Dive Center has incorporated this philosophy to be more than just a way to convey a quiet demeanor around the manatees, it is an intentional presence in the water.
Let’s start with their intention. The intent is to passively observe the animals in their natural habitat and only interact with them if they initiate the interaction. The golden rule of manatee swimming is, “Thou shalt not disturb the manatee from its activity.” If the manatee is eating, or sleeping, or engaged with other manatees we need to be quiet spectators. From a biological standpoint, it is always best to “minimize your footprint” in nature, that is to say, the goal is to make the least amount of disturbance as humanly possible. So with that intention in mind, let’s focus on how to achieve that goal.
And while it is good to be very quiet and peaceful around this very sensitive and often shy animal, to truly be Zen means to focus on your water skills as well. If you think about marine mammals, they must breathe in an aquatic environment, and so must we. As much as we don’t want to cough and sputter for our own comfort and image, and let’s face it we want to look cool while we’re doing this, we really don’t want to disturb the manatees by our presence. So let’s start with our breathing. You can’t get any air into your lungs through your nose while wearing a mask. When you try to “nose breathe” you are just sucking against a vacuum and that can lead to a sense of claustrophobia and panic. This results in behavior that ultimately scares the manatees you’re trying to see. So we need to breathe through our mouths. Air is good. Air is calming. So if we’re breathing in and out through our mouths in a slow and deliberate manner, we remain calm and the manatees will be more comfortable sharing their home with us.
Once we swim into an area where manatees are present, we want to minimize our movement around them. They have sensory hairs on their body, which can sense minute vibrations. When we do need to move, make all movements slow and deliberate. Focus is important. We need to remember that this is about being good house guests in the manatees’ home. A good house guest doesn’t trample the hosts’ food source or spread dirt all over the living room, so we want to float with our feet off the bottom. Also, when a manatee sees people standing up, they see a picket fence of feet around which they cannot negotiate. All the more reason to float calmly and quietly around the manatee. At Crystal River Kayak Company and Dive Center, we are committed to not only keeping our guests safe and legal, we are committed to making sure that our manatees are safe and happy too.
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