The whole purpose of visiting Crystal River was to visit and swim with the Manatee’s whose closest relative is the Elephant, so much so that they share many features – vegetarian, proboscis, toe nails on their fins, mammary gland just under the fin and a 13 month gestation period. This will certainly be a lasting memory for Adele having had the opportunity to get into the water with these enormous 1,500/2,000lb gentle giants.
Manatees live in very shallow warm water and love to congregate near natural warm springs; they are now a protected species, thankfully their numbers are slowly growing – remember that their gestation period is 13 months and they give birth to only one calf. Like most animals Manatees do not become pregnant again until they have reared their calf. Imagine what the world would be like if this was the case for us humans – the world’s over-population problem would be solved in one generation.
Afterwards we took a boat tour on the Crystal River which has many hot springs at a constant temperature of 72F the springs originate in the Carolina's and come to the surface in western Florida. The manatees rest around these springs, travel to find food, as we mentioned they are vegetarian and eat as much as 150lbs of grasses every day; lots of chewing! Adele got to rub two of them, they have skin like an elephant with a coating of green algae, so when rubbed a cloud of spores rises off their backs. Manatees eyes, again like elephants are tiny. Ancient sailors mistook manatees for mermaids – maybe they had consumed too much rum after which anything can look beautiful!
We also visited the nearby Homosassa Park which was well worth a trip. It is a Manatee sanctuary catering for injured or orphaned animals some of whom are released back into the wild; others unfortunately need to be held in captivity. The park has an underwater aquarium in the middle of the river on top of a warm spring - the number and profusion of wild fish swimming around the viewing area was phenomenal, as was a cormorant we saw dive and chase fish rather than catch any. Another feature of the park is that it also acts as a rescue area for rare and endangered birds – we saw three Bald Eagles, two with only one wing.
Our next stop will be St Joe State Park on the Florida panhandle, sometimes referred to as the redneck's Riviera.