It all happened when my wife, Cindy, and I took an afternoon paddle in our sit-on-top kayaks along the warm waters of the Indian River Lagoon on Hutchinson Island. My waterproof mp3 player softly serenaded us as we sculled along into a pleasant little cove area.
A sudden set of ripples indicated an underwater disturbance close to my kayak, too close. We’ve spotted huge Bull sharks in these waters so I became concerned and nervous.
“What’s going on?” Cindy paddled up alongside me, eyeballing the currents.
“I’m not sure.”
We dug our paddles deep, stroking deliberately towards the beach about a hundred feet away, the underwater monsters closing in on my naked little kayak. Almost there, I slid into the water to pull the kayaks ashore when…
A small gray face with a square snout splashed out of the water and I could have sworn this baby manatee was smiling! It must have been the Tom Petty music. I giggled while another stubbled baby-face broke the water and blinked at me, identical in cuteness. But then a third face gurgled out of the water and my heart skipped a beat as a 3000 pound giant rose up alongside me in the tepid salt water.
“It’s their momma!” Cindy exclaimed as she tugged her boat ashore.
I remained in the lagoon, the manatee calves circling me with friendly delight and momma Sea-Cow wandered off, confident that she had found herself a babysitter. It was a magnificent moment as the twin manatees pressed their rough bodies against me while I scratched them everywhere they wanted.
I heard voices from the beach.
“Look at that man over there in the water with the manatee!”
“They’re so cute, mom, can I go in?”
“I don’t know, it’s kind of scary…”
“Puh-leeeeze, oh, please?”
And then there were tweens in the water, one boy, one girl, and they were fabulously frightened. I told them to be gentle and calm. There are laws to protect the manatees but swimming with them is okay as long as it is respectful and protective.
I found out later that multiple calves born at the same time is a rarity so what a special day for all of us at the Indian River Lagoon! At one point, the girl wept tears of wonder and I asked her if she was okay.
“Yeeeeeeees!” she bawled out in utter joy.
That was the day Cindy called me the Manatee Whisperer.
If you ever get a chance to spend some time with a sea cow you should take it but remember that it is illegal under Florida law to “annoy, molest, harass, or disturb any manatee.”
© Copyright 2020 Flagler Humane Society
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