More About the Manatees
Biologists place manatees as members of the Sirenia genus, the mythical sirens who were once believed to have lured ancient Greek sailors to destruction. This evolved from the tale about a sailor mistaking an upright, nursing dugong for a mermaid.

It is believed that Christopher Columbus was the first European to report seeing a manatee in the New World, and to him and other sailors who had been at sea for too long, manatees were also reminiscent of mermaids -- the mythical half-fish, half-woman creatures of the ocean. Manatees are, however not fish, but marine mammals.

There are today four widely recognized species: the endangered Florida manatee (Trichechus manatus), a subspecies of the West Indian manatee, population numbers only 2,000 in the U.S. Manatees are also found in the tropical and subtropical waters of the Caraibbean, northeastern South America and the Amazon (Trichechus inunguis), West Africa (Trichechus senegalensis), and Indo-Pacific regions (Dugong dugon).

By Belkis Kamback

I always knew I was destined to swim with them, but until I finally did, I had no idea why? Truth is, swimming with them is a life altering experience.

In one American state, waking up one of these 2,000-pound sleeping beauties, will cost you a whopping fine, but it is perfectly legal to dive, snorkel or swim with these playful, inquisitive kids of the deep when they are awake and trying to make your acquaintance.

Our latest trip took us to the manatees home turf, far away from the modern-day animal refugee camps we have constructed and now call aquariums. We aimed our compass south to Florida's west central coast line and the Gulf of Mexico, and it is here that we met one of the most formidable aquatic mammals.

Citrus County and Crystal River is less than an hour and half drive from Orlando, Tampa or Daytona. In this fascinating little known corner of the U.S., Mother Nature's theme park features pristine rivers, trees dripping with Spanish moss, lush woods and more wildlife than people. From December to March, it is here that groups of manatees congregate. They have chosen to escape the cold winter ocean and bask in the warm waters near power plants and coastal clear water springs that stay about 72F degrees year-round.

Snorkelers, divers and swimmers like us come from all over the world for a chance to swim or interact with the gentle, docile West Indian manatee in its natural environment. Numerous dive sites, inland springs, good underwater visibility, calm water and its wintering manatee population have made Citrus County a popular destination for nature lovers.

Abundant plant life makes the area a perfect playground for the manatees, continued....