Today, March 25th, commemorates a very important, yet mostly unknown, day of celebration. For today, my friends, marks Manatee Appreciation Day.
On January 29, 2014 I was given the surreal honour of meeting wild manatees face to face. It is a day that instantly changed my life, as it was, and still is, the closest thing to a spiritual connection I have ever had. In honour of Manatee Appreciation Day I am going to share my experiences of that incredibly special January day. Over the course of two blogs, I hope to bring you into a place of what ultimate serenity and forgiveness looks like, and in doing so, have faith that you too will come to appreciate how important it is that we protect these amazing creatures – not only today, but every day of the year. Below is a moment by moment recount of my experience. Words I first wrote on the evening of January 29, 2014 but have forever been etched on my memory.
In addition to reading my words, I also encourage you to educate yourself on the perils each manatee faces within the daily battle of their existence. For more information about manatee habitats and anatomy, rescue and conservation efforts, as well as fun manatee themed activities, please visit www.savethemanatee.org as these gentle giants really do need our help.
Awareness is half the battle.
Happy Manatee Appreciation Day!
There they were, just off the bow of the boat. Five large masses floating in the water. Each waiting patiently, seemingly in the know of what was about to happen. I got my snorkel and mask in position. Eyeing them cautiously, I slowly made my way down the ladder until I was fully submerged in the water. As I turned to swim in their direction, a grey body appeared almost out of nowhere and proceeded to come right up to me. Before I could comprehend what was happening my field of vision was filled with two large nostrils and long pokey whiskers. One of my biggest dreams was coming true in that very moment – another check mark on my bucket list of life. I was looking directly into the eyes of a wild manatee.
I remember hearing someone’s account of swimming with manatees. “You haven’t lived until you’ve been gummed by a manatee” was the statement that stood out most for me. While these one ton creatures of the sea exude gentleness and calmness, the ability to get up close and personal was such a rarefied and privileged event that it was not to be taken lightly. What an unbelievable experience. Words can never give it proper justice. However through this writing I will make a heartfelt attempt to do so in order to preserve the power and grace of the repeated encounters I had on this amazing day. Timid as they were, their personalities become immediately evident. At one point I was being circled by four manatees. I was the eager receiver of whisker “kisses”, ear nuzzles, and what I later found out to be interpreted as a manatee hug!
There is something to be said about respecting our environment and tuning into the energy and rhythm of our great earth. When I entered the calm Florida waters this morning, I very much did so with the awareness that I was a guest in someone else’s home (which, essentially, I was). I waited for them to make the first move, had no expectations or hidden agenda, and, what I feel is most important, I expressed my thanks and gratitude when each encounter came to an end. A gentle thank you for allowing me to interact with them in their precious, protected space and providing me with an experience that will forever take up residence in my heart.
While there are so many moments to remember and appreciate, I have selected the ones that stand out most. At one point I was swimming alone in rather murky water. I kept lifting my head out of the water to see if there were any “bumps” breaching the surface; signs that a manatee was swimming nearby. Not seeing anything, I put my face back in the water, took some deep breaths through my snorkel and looked around my immediate area. Still seeing nothing I started to feel a bit uncomfortable and thought it best to swim closer to the boat. As I started my movement forward, out of the murkiness and coming directly towards me, was a manatee. We were literally face to face. He/she headed right for me, apparently curious as to my presence in the water. After checking to make sure I wasn’t a threat, we spent the next little while “playing” in the water. I will never forget the sight of that manatee “appearing” out of the darkness of the water. While I was never scared I was relieved to not be alone and appropriately thanked this gentle giant for coming to my aid. My own sea cow rescuer. Baywatch has nothing on these guys.
A little while later, while literally nose to nose with another manatee, I was having trouble getting water out of my snorkel. I kept sticking my head out of the water to adjust my mask and blow the water out of the tube. Almost every time I performed this maneuver the manatee I was visiting with would also stick his/her nose out of the water and take a breath. It became the manatee version of Simon Says – a truly authentic moment of oneness and connection between human and animal.
Stay tuned for Part Two…