Sat, 16th Feb '08, 7:20 pm::

I swam with four Manatees in the wild today at Chassahowitzka River while kayaking. Here are my Chassahowitzka River photos, though none of me and the manatees - yet. A nice lady kayaking nearby saw me in the water and took some snaps. She said she'll email them to me by Monday. I have my fingers crossed.

I knew manatees were friendly but I had grossly underestimated their cuteness. Without me doing anything, one of the manatees approached me and started sniffing my legs underwater with his snout. Then he held my left hand between both his flippers and started nuzzling my hand! Another one came up and put his neck over my hand so I could pet it and then turned over so I could rub his belly. I swam around in the water for almost twenty minutes and one of them kept following me wherever I went. He was like a huge kitty just looking for some cuddles. I've heard of people swimming with captive manatees at places like Sea World but today when I put in my kayak at 7:45am, I had no clue I would get to swim with these gigantic lovable creatures out in the wild. Their skin feels just like an elephant's and they have a soft snout that they lift just an inch above the water surface to breathe.

One thing to always remember is that because of the Endangered Species Act, you are not allowed to touch manatees with both your hands at the same time and neither are you allowed to chase after them. The best thing to do is just stand in one place like I did initially and let them come to you. Then after a while you can move about slowly and let them chase you if they are interested. While inside my head I was extremely excited about the experience, when I was in the water, I did my best to be gentle and calm. Nature isn't like a staged show with trained dolphins jumping around. Wild manatees cannot become too tame or else they will suffer out in the ocean so human contact should be minimal and infrequent for their own sake.

Last time I kayaked was in September - 26 miles on the Suwannee - and when I went back into the water today, I really wasn't expecting much. I was hoping to take some good pictures and maybe a couple of short videos in HD. But the whole swimming-with-manatees experience was completely out of this world. I've kayaked and surfed with dolphins before but today's swim tops all of that. Now I'm going to try to edit the 73 HD clips (almost 45 minutes) I filmed today into one short video.

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