Crystal River, Florida is one of the migratory watery pass-throughs for hundreds of the most gentle, docile mammals on earth. The water’s constant 72-degrees fed by fresh underwater springs makes it ideal for the very temperature-sensitive manatee. Like whales and porpoises, they cannot venture on land but still require air to breathe. They do not have a blowhole, instead they use their two nostrils when they surface and in just seconds gulp in enough air to fill their massive lungs allowing them to quietly stay submerged for 15-20 minutes at a time. Even as they sleep, they automatically rise to the surface, breathe and sink down—kind of “sleep-swimming”.
Not immediately the handsomest of creatures, beauty is really in the eye of the beholder. Judging from their procreative tendencies, other manatees think they’re the cat’s meow. Their bodies resemble a football that has been stretched lengthwise until it becomes a fat cigar or perhaps, a trim dirigible. They have mastered the ability to raise and lower their 10-foot plus, 800-3,000 pound bodies through the water with the ease of a ballet dancer. Despite their massive size, they maneuver with grace and precision, occasionally communicating with each other, their offspring and the herd with little squeaks and clicks. Their large flat tails are reminiscent of a beaver’s and can propel them up to 20 mph for short bursts. Committed vegetarians, they eat about 10% of their body weight in sea grass daily. Their large bulk belies a very low-fat body, a result of their super-lean diet. Their bones are very big, heavy and solid lacking an inner cavity for bone marrow.
Curious and non-aggressive, they are the very definition of fluid as they playfully brush up against a human snorkeler who is dwarfed by this giant. Being in their presence allows us to let go of our species-superiority and admire and embrace the serenity that goes hand-in-flipper with the manatee. If we could only adopt some of their elegance, compassion and serenity, we would be all the better for it.