We met with a local boating captain who gave us a map of the river. He explained which places might attract the most manatees that morning and circled different areas on the map where we could drop anchor and jump in the water. Fir st, we had to view an informational video on the legal limits of swimming with manatees as well as sign a release form confirming we would follow all the rules. No touching, chasing or grabbing them – it’s punishable by law up to $100,000 in fines and/or two years in prison. The captain also war ned us that there would be plenty of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officials in the water seeking out people who were not following the Such a peaceful creature ... rules, with big ticket books readily waiting in their hands. We dropped anchor at Pete’s Pier and after swimming for just a few minutes, a manatee bumped my friend. She quickly grabbed my arm and pointed to it to get my attention. I’m sure it just startled her, and it may have just been playing or maybe it was just curious, but it just kept swimming right by us as if we were driving too slowly in the left lane. After about 20 minutes, we didn’t see any more of them, so we headed back to the boat to navigate to our next spot. As we got closer to Three Sister’s spring, we noticed many boats were anchored there and plenty of people were in the water. Once we stopped, I literally saw the snouts of dozens of manatee in the water surrounding the warm spring, which is what attracts them there during the winter months. Eager to explore, I had my gear on and was the first one in the water. A family of three swam beneath me, peacefully floating by harmoniously. Then there was another one. Then two more. Then another group. They were everywhere.
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