Galley Wench Tales

Exploring the world through the people we meet
and the food they eat.

The same Thanksgiving day I about sh– in my pants (and thanks to startling a ‘gator, it looked like the whole river did just that on me and my kayak) was also the same day I got to enjoy watching some of the gentlest of large estuary critters — manatees.  

Famed fictional captain Moby Dick was not enamored with them, sardonically quipping “…these pig-fish are a noisy, contemptible set, mostly lurking in the mouths of rivers, and feeding on wet hay, and especially as they do not spout, I deny their credentials as whales; and have presented them with their passports to quit the Kingdom of Cetology.” 

Indeed, the captain is correct on manatees origin. He may have been a bit loopy, but not as loopy as sailors who mistook them for mermaids! Maybe it had just been way too long without female companionship.

Manatee’s closest living land relative is the elephant.  Like elephants, manatees are mostly vegetarian.  Watching them eat, it’s easy to understand why they’re nicknamed “sea cows.”  Per wikepedia, “Manatees are three of the four living species in the order Sirenia. The fourth is the Eastern Hemisphere‘s dugong [which I had the pleasure of seeing in Vanuatu]. The Sirenia are thought to have evolved from four-legged land mammals more than 60 million years ago.”

manatees palm bay florida goode park
This manatee couple looked like they were cuddling. Goode Park, Palm Bay, Thanksgiving 2018.

Today, while we’re lucky enough to see manatees with ease in Florida, they are endangered species.  Florida enacted protections for them from hunters as early as the mid 1800s. Today, propellers and red tides threaten their survival.  Those that do survive may live as long as 60 years. Fully grown, they reach 800-1200 pounds.  

If you’re looking for them, you might first hear them grabbing a deep breath of air when they surface — which you can hear in this audio, along with a variety of other sounds they make — including farting (also on the audio)! When awake, they come up about every 3 minutes, though when they sleep, they wake up every 20 minutes to come up for air.

They’re gentle, curious and usually slow moving, though they can swim in short bursts at speeds of over 20 miles per hour. They seem so friendly, it’s hard to resist wanting to give them an affectionate pat.  I’d love to swim with manatees, but not when they’re hanging out in alligator country.

Danny of Paradise Paddling approaching Turkey Creek Sanctuary Palm Bay
Danny of Paradise Paddling leading the way on Turkey Creek for the sunset paddle where I first encountered manatees.

The nice folks at Paddling Paradise at Turkey Creek, Palm Bay treated a group of us to my first time seeing manatees from my kayak.  We watched several of them grazing contentedly right next to us. We left before the manatees did because we needed return while there was still enough light.

If you’d like to learn more about manatees here’s a few longer videos, shot in much clearer water.
Where You Can Swim with Manatees (3 minutes)
The Truth About Manatees (7 1/2 minutes)

If you’re really intrigued, you can even adopt a manatee (virtually), and increase the likelihood future generations can enjoy them as much as we do.

Meanwhile — this Thanksgiving it was an alligator and manatees. Two years ago ago I saw pink dolphins for Thanksgiving.  What’s next?