“This curious world we inhabit… is far more wonderful than convenient; more beautiful than useful; it is more to be admired and enjoyed than used” — Henry David Thoreau
One of the main reasons I love traveling is because I absolutely delight in taking in the various forms of beauty of our natural world. I’ve already communicated my love of sunsets, how each one is different, unique, and beautiful in its own right. I persuaded Joel to go on our Alaskan cruise last year after viewing a friend’s photos on Facebook; I wanted to see those breathtaking glaciers and hear the whales shoot their spray into the cool morning air. One of the reasons I was excited about this trip is because I’ve never truly seen a manatee up close before. A few years ago, a massive dark shadow passed me about 30 feet away as I swam near the Siesta Key Beach, but visions of Jaws had me jumping out of the water before I realized it was moving entirely too slow to be a shark. Damnit. Oh no… on this trip, I was determined to see a manatee.
When Joel was at Caya Costa a month ago (while I was still working), he was busy working on boat projects and didn’t get to spend a whole lot of time on the island. The time he did spend here was spent on land, and mostly on the gulf-side beach to beat the heat. On the intracoastal side of the island (which is a state park) there is a narrow inlet in the mangroves that you’d easily miss if you were motoring by and not looking for it.
The inlet eventually opens up into a circular lake-like body called Manatee Hole. Joel and I took the dinghy into the inlet last night in hopes of finding a manatee. We motored in slowly, eyes ever watchful, shut of the engine, and coasted over the still green waters. Nothing. The only sounds were the slaps of the occasional fish jumping and the shrill chirps from an osprey who seemed a little perturbed that we were in the area.
A glance off to the side revealed a rather large nest. Ahhh. So, we decided to turn back and try again in the morning. Once again, we entered the cove (around 8:30 AM this morning), turned off the engine, and waited… but nature didn’t make us wait very long this time. Within two minutes of cutting the engine, momma manatee, her baby, and a third manatee came out to play. It started off with a few ripples that could have been from fish except they, like their creators, were slow and languid as they gently broke the surface. I could go on an on, but I’ll let the pics do the talking for a bit.
We stayed and watched and talked to this trio for an hour. Mama was definitely the ringleader, and once she snuffled at the side of the boat for a bit and decided we were okay, she commenced to do barrel rolls, dive directly under our dinghy, make eyes at us, and repeat the whole show again. Over and over and over. For over an hour, these beautiful (and large! the pics don’t do them justice) creatures were close enough that we could have reached out and touched them. The first time Mama swam under the boat was a bit alarming, because she was easily big enough to topple us into the salt water *that Joel saw a gator in on his last stint here! But it soon became evident that neither Mama nor the others had that intention. And even though she was big, she never did more than gently scratch against our little boat. When we went to leave, we paddled away and she and the others followed us! It was as if she was as sad to see us go as we were to leave. It was truly amazing, and also a little sad. These creatures are just as curious about us as we are about them… that is, the ones of us who slow down to admire the view. Each of the three gentle giants bore stark white scars from previous run-ins with boat props, even baby. And yet, here they were, looking at us with fresh eyes like they had never seen (or been hurt) by members of our species before. I’m a teacher, so pardon me if I get a little didactic here. There are two lessons I took from the manatee that looked into my soul this morning. Number 1: never let the scars from your past (or the individuals who made them) change you or the way you look at others. Number 2: always take the time to do have fun and do what you love to do. Thanks, Mama Manatee. Stay safe and beautiful.
If you liked these photos, be sure to check out our facebook page for more photos and some videos of our manatee friends.