“People are always surprised at how large these animals are,” Engiles says. “Unless you’re a regular scuba diver, you’ve probably never been in the water with something as big as a manatee.” Indeed, manatees can be up to 10ft long, and when mature weigh between 1,500 and 2,300 lbs. Newborns are about 4 feet long and weigh 40 to 100 lbs. Again, not small. But not at all a threat.
But go with an expert
Though it is technically legal to swim with manatees, a visitor to the area probably won’t know where to go, or how to find them, or have all the right equipment. The Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge and the Kings Bay Manatee Refuge are both large spaces with limited access, and spending the extra money to go with an operator will make the trip easier, safer, and more efficient. Obviously Crystal River Watersports is a reputable outfit, as are the guides that leave out of the Plantation on Crystal River, but there are no shortage of other operators in Citrus County.
“Swim, enjoy the moment, and let the manatees do what they want to do,” Engiles says. “People need to respect the animals, like they’re going out into their home. It’s not a petting zoo. These are wild animals and you don’t want to disrupt their natural behavior.” The manatees, you'll soon see, are in no hurry whatsoever. So take their cue.