Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Florida....take four (part two)

I have always wanted to swim with dolphins... I used to pretend I was a dolphin when I was little, I would swim around in our little pool in the back yard and ask my brother to be the trainer. I loved watching the dolphins at Kings Island when they used to have the dolphin and sea lion show. My love for dolphins go way, way back. :) I was so excited to see places like Discovery Cove open because it gave someone like me, (someone who doesn't travel around the world hopping from one resort to the next) a chance to spend some time one on one with a dolphin.

I did my research... and I learned a lot.....

1. I learned it was very expensive... $250.00 per person for a day at the Discovery Cove with a dolphin swim and photo. A family of 4 would cost over $1000.00... ummm yeah... a bit spendy.

2. The swim was usually done with a trained professional (which isn't a problem) but the dolphin is trained and it is more like a performance than time spent hanging out with a dolphin.

3. I learned how some resorts get their dolphins. Not that I think Sea World or Discovery Cove would ever take part in this since they are a rescue park, but it was the principle. Japan is the worst for this..... most of the people in Japan are not even aware this takes place. Men go fishing together to capture young dolphins.... it is usually a blood bath and many, many dolphins are killed inhumanly to sell their meat while the young are sold at a very high price to aquariums and resorts.

Phillips said, "The public, including the people of Japan, would be outraged if they knew the truth - that thousands of innocent dolphins die a horrible death so that a few can be shown doing tricks in aquariums. The drive fishery and the slaughter must be stopped, and the aquarium industry should be ashamed of sponsoring the killing of thousands of dolphins annually."

"Fishermen herd dolphin schools into shallow waters, where around 2,000 are annually slaughtered for meat," said Sakae Hemmi, spokesperson for Japan's Elsa Nature Conservancy.

"The aquarium industry subsidizes the slaughter by offering thousands of dollars to buy a few prime specimens of dolphins from the shallow waters of the blood-filled slaughter pools," said Hemmi. "Without these enormous prices for prime specimens, it will be quite difficult for the drive fishery to survive, for dolphin meat is much contaminated with mercury."

Ok, ok, I will get off my activist soap box now...

Needless to say we didn't want to support this industry so we started to look around. I was very sad because of what was being done to these intelligent creatures and also because dang it!!! I wanted to swim with one. I then became very excited when I stumbled upon Captain Mike.

Captain Mike runs a Manatee Swim business. He owns a few boats and takes a few people out at a time into the Homosassa River to swim with the manatees in their own environment. Firm rules are set in place, such as:

1. No riding the manatees
2. No chasing the manatees
3. Obviously no hurting or scaring the manatees

Manatees are an endangered species... their only threat is man. Most are killed or injured by boat propellers. So, in order for us to interact with these wonderful creatures we had to follow the rules.

The kids did not know we had this little trip planned. I had called ahead and made reservations for the four of us to board Captain Mike's vessel in the morning of August 1st at Cracker's bar and grill dock. The Manatee swim included breakfast on the boat, lunch at Crackers Grill, 5 hours in the water with the manatees and rental of the wet suit... it was a great deal at $99.00 per person.

We told the kids we wanted to visit other parts of Florida so we went for a "drive". While on this drive we decided we didn't really want to drive 2 1/2 hours back to the condo so we rented a hotel room at the Homosassa Riverside Resort. (one I had set up in advance).

Leslie, (the observant one) had noticed signs on the way to the hotel advertising Manatee Swims.... she kinda had a feeling this is what we had planned but, she kept quiet and let us play our little game.

Once inside the hotel we gave them pamphlets on the manatee swim and told them all about the day we were going to have. Leslie was so excited she cried a little bit... Nick wasn't sure... but was excited about the wet suits and the water rocket he could ride.

We went out to dinner that night to a really neat restaurant on the water just off the Homosassa River. It was called Marguerita Grill. It was a a beautiful night and the sea food was wonderful...

In the morning we drove over to Crackers to wait on Captain Mike's boat.

We were happy to see we were sharing the boat with two really nice teachers from NY. I was giddy with anticipation. I know I wasn't swimming with dolphins... however after reading up on manatees I found out they truly enjoy interacting with humans and I couldn't wait to play with one.

We stood on the dock and waited for our boat to pull up...

Once we had made our introductions ( Captain Mike was not our captain for the day... it was....umm...... her name started with a D... very nice lady... she was almost killed by a run in with a boat propeller herself so she had a special bond with the manatees. I will have to look up her name in my vacation journal... it will drive me crazy... (YES, I JOURNAL OUR VACATIONS!)...Delores maybe???... I don't know.
... Ok, after introductions we proceeded to put on our wet suits. Have you ever put on a wet suit??? How about one that is a little too small?? Have you tried going to the restroom while wearing a too small of a wet suit that is wet??? (and I thought a whole piece bathing suit was bad).

I am not going to complain however because if it were not for those wet suits I would have been miserable all day long. We were in spring water which is much, much cooler than ocean water. Even with the wet suits the kids lips were blue after swimming all day.

As we approached the natural spring in the Homosossa River, look who greeted us....

We couldn't get into the water quick enough.... they came right up to the boat and wanted to play.

Look at that face! Is that not the sweetest face?? These guys were so much fun... they would swim up to us and roll over for us to rub their bellies. We would swim down with them to the bottom (which wasn't too deep... some places were only 5 or 6 feet deep... no wonder boats hit them all the time) and we could hear them eating the plants under water. That is how they got the nick name of water cow.

Here we all are riding.... umm..I mean swimming with the Manatees

Taking a break to get warm for a bit.....

It was amazing to me how playful these guys were... they would come right up to the boat and look for us. They would play with us while in the water too, it was obvious they enjoyed being around us.

We swam around the natural spring for a couple hours and then loaded back onto the boat to look for more manatees in a different location. We rode out to very deep, murky water. We all got into the water (except Nick... he wanted to take a break so he camcorded for us) Greg, Les and I swam way, way out from the boat looking for manatees. The water was very murky and you could only see about 2 feet in front of you; it was pretty scarry. When we did find some manatees they scared the you know what out of us.... we couldn't see anything and then BAM there they were... two HUGE creatures with moss growing on them. They allowed us to touch them a little but then with one huge swoosh of their tail they were out of sight again. The three of us swam as fast as we could back to the boat and decided we were done with the scarry, murky water.

Doesn't this look like a scene from Jaws or something??? I'm telling ya... don't swim with manatees unless you are in spring water.... it is pretty spooky.

After our spooky encounter with 100 year old manatees in the murky water we all wanted to go back to the spring water to play with our little playful friends that we could SEE!

Toward the end of the day a baby manatee approached the boat... one of our teacher friends from NY reached out her hand to the baby and he started to swim over to her.

He swam over to her and allowed her to scratch his head and nose....

Then his belly.....

Look at that face!!!!

I couldn't take it anymore so I got into the water with the baby..... I think I stole him from this lady, but she wasn't getting into the water and I wasn't going to miss out on this opportunity. I was on cloud 9.

At the very end of the day Nick was given the water rocket.... he was waiting for that rocket all day long. We had to wait until the manatees were either gone or at least further from the boat so he would have room to drive around without running into them. He had a blast!

The day in a nut shell was amazing for me. I have never experienced one of God's creatures, in their own habitat, so intimately. It amazed me that they came up to us much less than played with us. There were no trainers, no whistles or time limits... just us, the water, and the manatees the way God created them to be. I loved these manatees and I will definitely go back to experience this again some day. Something I HIGHLY recommend if you are thinking about a dolphin swim. :)

Florida....take five another day....

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