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T. GAMBLE: Take care when swimming with the fishies

OPINION: Manatees, it turns out, are a lot like buddies back home — slow, fat and docile

T. Gamble

T. Gamble

This past weekend I went to Crystal River in Florida to “swim with the manatees.” The wife and kids were in tow, as it was the 9-year-old Hurricane boy’s idea. In fact, he told my secretary when asked about the upcoming trip that it was “his lifetime ambition to swim with the manatees.”

I guess it is good to know that at least one Gamble achieved their lifetime ambition, and at such an early age to boot!

Poor Hurricane. He’ll be like Alexander the Great, who, it is said, cried at the age of 19 because he had no more worlds to conquer. Somehow I imagine the Hurricane will come up with other worlds to conquer and avoid the tears.

No one told me that swimming with manatees was such an involved and complicated matter. I’ve not spent a great deal of time worrying about manatees, as I’ve still got my hands full tending to Valentine, the maybe pot bellied pig but likely a full grown boar hog who, although not a manatee, seems destined to weigh about as much as one.

So, I went on this excursion completely ignorant, which, come to think of it, is how I handle most of life.

It seems that manatees must have warm water to survive, so large numbers gather in the winter at Crystal River, which has relatively warm water (more about that later) that keeps them alive. Thus, if you want a good chance to swim with them you must go in the winter.

Florida is warm and sunny as we all know, but even it is chilly in February. We planned to swim with the manatees at 7 a.m., which meant the outside temperature was 38 degrees. Please don’t misunderstand me, I like manatees, but I also like my first cousin and I don’t want to go swimming with her in 38-degree weather.

The water was a warm 72 degrees, which sounds OK, but if put in that degree of water without a wetsuit the average human will die in about 15-20 minutes from hypothermia. I’d say I had about five minutes, as I am not an average human being but rather I am a used to sitting in my lounge chair in a 72-degree heated room watching golf human beings.

Thankfully, we did have a wetsuit, which meant it would take about an hour before I froze to death.

Manatees, according to the 10-year-old Princess girl are “majestic” In case you don’t know, they are large sea mammals, shaped like an overgrown seal with sort of a snout for a nose and little beady expression-full eyes. They are huge — some weigh as much as 3,500 pounds — and they are very slow and docile.

Once I encountered a few, I felt like I was back with my buddies from home … you know … slow, fat, docile with beady eyes. The only thing missing was a 12 pack of beer and I would not be a bit surprised if I had seen a manatee drinking one.

When swimming with manatees, one must float dead man style in the water and wait for them to come to you. They are very shy and do not like sudden movement. Now ask yourself, why in God’s name did I bring the Hurricane to such a place? He learned to whisper in a sawmill. He has been asked to leave the jumpy-jumpy place for jumping too much. So here we are floating and waiting, the Hurricane remarkably still, when directly below I see a fish, a very large fish. I’m talking about bigger-than-me fish.

Listen, I’m no Bill Dance but I do not want to be in the water with a fish bigger than me, especially while I float around like a giant top water lure. I looked at the fish, and he looked back at me with a fish expression that said I am hungry and I’d like to eat the old fat guy floating dead man style in the river.

I don’t know a lot about fish, but when you look them in the eye you can tell these sort of things.

I decided there were probably plenty of manatees on the other side of the river and hightailed out of there, leaving Hurricane to fend for himself.

I soon encountered lots of manatees. Manatees with their babies; manatees eating, which it seems they do an awful lot of; manatees rolling around so you could touch them on their bellies. The Princess was right. They are majestic in an overweight, lazy kinda way. They are the Walmart shoppers of the sea world, I suppose.

I highly recommend the experience and I’ll go back as soon as I recover from the frostbite … and the big fish.

Email columnist T. Gamble at wtg@colliergamble.com.