17 Things to Know when Swimming with Manatees

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Swimming with Manatees crystal river

Manatees are largely (no pun intended) known as “gentle giants.” Like dolphins, they’re curious creatures that enjoy human interaction, and this makes them a perfect animal to swim in the water with. If you’re looking forward to swimming with the manatees, then read on! We’ve got everything you need to know about this adventure.

Fun Facts About Manatees

  1. Manatees are often known as “sea cows.” They’re a large aquatic mammal with an egg-shaped head, flippers, and a flat tail. Their size is often intimidating to people, but they’re gentle and calm animals. In fact, they’re thought to have been mistaken for mermaids by Christopher Columbus. Columbus wrote that he saw creatures that were not as beautiful as mermaids had been described and had some masculine traits.
  2. Manatees never leave the water. These aquatic animals are at home in the water and remain here for their entire lives. Unlike seals or penguins, manatees never leave the water and will only come up for air when they need it. Thus, when swimming with the manatees, you can expect to be underwater for the majority of the time. On average, manatees will come up for air roughly every 5 minutes. If they’re quite active, they may surface every 30 seconds or so. If they’re at rest, then their air may last a bit longer at 20 minutes.
  3. Manatees share an ancestor with the elephant. Despite being a marine animal, manatees are more closely related to elephants than they are whales or other water creatures. Take a look at a picture. Do you see the resemblance?
  4. Manatees love to eat (but only plants). When people see a creature that large, they often worried that it may get hungry. Fortunately, manatees are herbivores. You’ll never have to worry about one taking a bite out of you when you’re swimming with the manatees. Each day, manatees eat more than a 10th of their weight (which can vary between 800 and 1,200 pounds!). Because all of their food is “vegetarian,” you’ll often find them feeding on plants that grow in both freshwater and saltwater environments. For example, in a freshwater environment, this may include water lettuce, hydrilla, water celery, and musk grass.
  5. Manatees serve as a great “ecosystem indicator.” You can tell how an ecosystem is doing just by looking at the manatees. This is primarily because of their diet. If they’re finding enough food in order to thrive, it means that their immediate environment is also flourishing with life.
  6. Manatees are generally considered “slow” animals. They move at roughly 5 miles per hour on average, so you won’t have to be swimming with the manatees super quickly. However, when they want to, they can speed up to 15 miles per hour.
  7. Manatees are often founding shallow coastal areas and rivers. Their location is largely due to their diet. In these areas, they can feed on foods like seagrass, mangrove leaves, algae, and more. In the United States, they’re found in Florida. Internationally, you can find manatees in Mexico, Central America, the Greater Antilles, along the northern and eastern coasts of South America, and Africa.
  8. There are three different species of manatee. The species are distinguished based on region. Here are the three different types and where you will find them.
    1. West Indian manatee – North American east coast (Florida to Brazil)
    2. Amazonian manatee – Amazon River
    3. African manatee – West coast and rivers of Africa
Swimming with sweet Manatees
Swimming with sweet Manatees

What is Swimming with the Manatees Like?

When you first think about swimming with manatees, you may think of dolphins as a reference. Dolphins are agile and attractive marine mammals…is the experience of swimming with them anything like swimming with the manatees?

Swimming with Manatees underwater
Swimming with Manatees underwater

As it turns out, yes. There are quite a few similarities between these swimming experiences. In fact, the best swimming experiences are those that make the animals most comfortable, so you’ll want to:

  1. Minimize splash noise
  2. Always make slow movements
  3. Avoid touching the animal

Swimming with the manatees will be the most fun for both of you if everyone in the situation is relaxed and calm. As a result, you should follow all of the safety guidelines that are provided to you.

Swimming with Manatees crystal river
Swimming with Manatees crystal river

What Can Help Me Prepare to Swim with the Manatees?

An on-site instructor will provide information prior to your swimming with the manatees.  However, this information can help you prepare for what the experience will be like.

  • Go at the right time. Manatees are active at different times of the day, so swimming with them often involves understanding their patterns, which you will know when you go with an expert tour guide. 
  • Make sure you have the right gear. Gear allows you to be safe and comfortable in the water while swimming with the manatees. Often, people hear about 70 to 80-degree temperatures and think they’ll be fine for a few hours. However, your body will inevitably get cold during extended time in the water. Make the most of your time swimming with the manatees by ensuring you’re comfortable.
    • For gear, a wetsuit, goggles, and a snorkel are absolutely necessary when swimming with manatees. Remember, they don’t come up for air that often, which means you’ll need to have your eyes and nose beneath the water to truly enjoy this experience.
  • Enter the water slowly. This is in effort to not disrupt the manatees. Remember, even though manatees are calm and gentle creatures, they can still be startled by humans. You want to make sure you’re calm and gentle towards them as well. Enter slowly and avoid splashing to be respectful.
  • Be patient. Swimming with manatees requires a lot of patience. Sometimes you’ll find them immediately, and sometimes you’ll be waiting on them to make their appearance. This isn’t what everyone always expects. They think that they’ll get in a boat and instantly be able to swim with them. Yet, finding them in a large open ocean isn’t always that easy. It takes time to locate them (even if they’re always in the same general area).
  • Keep your hands to yourself. Manatees are wild animals, and it’s best for their protection if you avoid contact. So, keep your hands to yourself and just look with your eyes. In general, manatees are docile animals that won’t exhibit any aggression.

Swimming with Manatee

Are manatees dangerous?

Swimming with the manatees is a fun activity for all ages. You don’t have to be worried about being attacked by a manatee, and they are unlikely to exhibit any aggression. Since their snout isn’t shaped well for attack, the manatee wouldn’t even bite you if it felt threatened. It would simply move away from you.

snorkel with Manatees

So, if you’re minimizing splashing, making slow movements, and keeping your hands to yourself, you shouldn’t have any issues while swimming with the manatees.

Swimming with Manatee adeventures

Final Thoughts on Swimming with Manatees

That’s everything you need to know before swimming with the manatees. This is a great opportunity for you to experience nature and see these incredible creatures. Just remember to follow the instructions from your guide and enter the water with a respectful mindset.


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