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Swimming with Manatees Near Orlando Florida

by Jeremy Schoemaker on September 20, 2010 · 85 comments

Last Wednesday morning my wife, 2 kids, and nanny went to Orlando, Florida. While there, my wife talked me into driving 2 hours away to the Crystal River so we could swim with the manatees.

Now, I had no clue what a manatee was. I thought it was like a sea lion or something… I had no idea how fricking big they were.

This place we went to swim with them was legit too. No cages or anything. These things are in the wild.

Before we got started, our captain, Captain Joe, told us there were only 28 in the area and there was a really good possibility we could scout around all day and never find any.

The first couple hours we didn’t see anything and were chasing shadows.

Then Captain Joe found this little one scooting around. It was a smaller one but still a good 6 ft long and probably 600 lbs or so:

We got in the water a ways down from him and he swam up to us. Then I swam with him for a while. Well, more like floated around him while he ate grass. He was so big. It was pretty crazy:

We saw quite a few bigger ones during the day. It’s like swimming with a real-life wild submarine.

Here is a picture Captain Joe took of me close to one with his underwater camera:

manatee tour

In the end, I am super happy my wife talked me into going. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life!

If you ever want to swim with the manatees in Crystal River, I highly recommend you go out with Captain Joe. Tell him you want the ShoeMoney special rate ;)

Here is their website.

full disclosure

About the author...

– who has written 2858 posts on

Jeremy "ShoeMoney" Schoemaker is the founder & CEO of the ShoeMoney Blog, Elite Retreat Internet Conference, & the PAR Program. In 2013 Jeremy released his #1 Amazon Best selling Autobiography titled "Nothing's Changed But My Change" - The ShoeMoney Story. Jeremy currently lives in Lincoln Nebraska with his wife and 2 daughters.

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1 Lou Sparx

Wow that looks cool. manatees or not I’d be happy with a day of snorkling :)

2 FirenzeZ

I wouldn’t pass up the chance to swim with those manatees. That’s something I’m looking forward to doing some time in the near future.

3 Jona712

Crystal River tours are just awesome! My friend and I opted for the reef diving trip looking for wrecks and other interesting underwater views. Our guide even showed us a preserved wine bottle supposedly from a Portuguese galleon. Too bad we never had the chance to taste it, though. ROFL.

4 Ilya Vassilevsky

Big guys just like you :)

5 WhoisDoyle

You got that right. Good thing they’re such gentle creatures despite the size.

6 House Season 7

That thing is freaking huge Shoe!

7 veronica_sm

They can grow as much as 15 feet or more. Florida Manatees (T. m. latirostris) have been known to live up to 60 years, and they can move freely between different salinity extremes; however, Amazonian Manatees (T. inunguis) never venture out into salt water. They have a large flexible prehensile upper lip that acts in many ways like a shortened trunk, somewhat similar to an elephant’s. They use the lip to gather food and eat, as well as using it for social interactions and communications. Their small, widely spaced eyes have eyelids that close in a circular manner. Manatees are also believed to have the ability to see in color. Shoe, did you at some point of your dive, think that the manatee is a distant cousin of the whale?

8 Bill Hartzer

It definitely is an amazing experience, too bad you had to use just a snorkel… going to the Crystal River area and scuba diving is great, also.

You don’ t realize how huge those manatees are until you swim up close with them.

9 enajyram00

I’ve never actually seen one except in photos or on TV. I’ve swam with dolphins before. I look forward to swimming with manatees hopefully within the year.

10 moolahmachine

How about swimming with me, hon? LOL. By the way, we will be at the Fifth tomorrow afternoon. Hope to sip a few brewskies with you and the gang.

11 internetFTW

I can’t think of a better way to enjoy my next vacation. Thanks for the tip, Jeremy!

12 PattyT12

I’ve seen a few once during a visit to the zoo. I bet nothing beats observing them in their natural environment. I’ll add the manatee tour to my steadily growing wish list.

13 Nomar

Those are pretty impressive animals to see, their tale in special. Lazy creatures :)

14 medomoc

eat, sleep, and swim. sometimes i envy those manatees.

15 TheSandMan5050

I hear you. Simple yet amazing creatures. I think it’s a shame that they’re on the endangered species list.

16 WhoSaysWhat01

That’s true. At least on the upside, they are protected under Endangered Species and Marine Mammal Protection Acts.

17 Bputitout / Putitoutthere

Eat, sleep and swim? Are you referring to The Hoff’s character in Baywatch? Probably not since you didn’t mention eating hamburgers off the floor.

18 Bryan Jake T

That one looks a lot like the dugong I’ve seen during a holiday trip somewhere in Southeast Asia.

19 TomYoon

Saw a documentary once in college where these creatures get caught in fishing nets and eventually die. Wish my children (yes, Karen and I are having kids soon) would have a glimpse of manatees as close as you did. Keep up the good work!

20 Yes2Freebies

This post brought to mind something I read yesterday. They truly are special animals but like most endangered animals, theirs is sometimes a sad tale too.

21 max

That is awesome! They don’t bite?

22 Alex Dumitru

I guess not :))

23 AnnieLouJ12860

Why don’t we book a Crystal River tour and find out? We’ll tie you up and leave you floating on the water. Just keep your fingers crossed that none of these manatees are actually alligator gars waiting for an easy meal. LMAO. :D

24 AL0101

I don’t intend to find out. I’ll be content watching them from a distance.

25 spameater

My old college buddy, Brent, who now works with the Florida Marine Reserve, snapped this super cool pic of manatees during one of their tagging and identification expeditions:

26 WanderingMommy

When I was still writing for a daily in Wichita, I read somewhere in the archives that these creatures are the “prototypes of mermaids of legend and are among the least known of all animals to naturalists because of their underwater habitat and their secretive habits.” Well if you happen to see manatees from a distance –just like Shoe’s photos display — they have a curiously human appearance, which may account for the many reports of mermaids and mermen.

27 Dandundun

Actually, that’s what marine life conservationists suggest that people do. Although, given the chance, I’d probably swim with manatees too. They’re quite fascinating creatures.

28 melg

Me too! I’d rather watch them from afar.

29 Edgar

dude, thats crazy I dont think I could do it. thanks for sharing.

30 F2Xsites

of course you can. it’s safe to be around them. unless you do something really crazy to provoke them. though i haven’t heard any story yet of manatees harming people.

31 Alex Dumitru

Poor manatee, you’ve been disturbing it all day :)

32 TomYoon

Wait just a friggin’ sec and tell me the difference between the manatee and Shoe? Just horsing around, big guy. :D Hope you had a fantastic time taking a dip with these gentle titans.

33 MVZP_01

I think that it’s great how they limit the number of people in the tour group. It’s easier to control the interaction. I don’t think it’s even allowed to pet and touch manatees. The idea is to get close and not do something that could stress them out.

34 nealcal

Hmmm…that looks tasty with a bit of barbecue sauce and a touch of cumin and anise. Ooops! I meant the chicken my wife was showing me. LMAO. Great post, Jeremy.

35 Nicole Burns

They have such a gentle temperament. They probably won’t mind the presence of people much.

36 Lucas

Looks like he’s now using that photo of you with the manatee for the header on his website. Pretty cool!

37 gen0cyber

real cool, don’t get to see such beautiful things irl like that.

38 AnnieP78

Wow! Looks fun! I’ll include that in the itinerary on our next visit to the city.

39 ExclaimedIdeas

Superb pics. I just wished you had more underwater shots. I’ve always been mystified by these creatures ever since I read a pamphlet from WWF last year. They’re like the pandas of the water. Meek, gentle and super adorable.

40 Ara600_m1

Check out the site’s photo gallery. I think the Capt. Joe who took these pics is the same one Jeremy is referring to

41 Rod S. Lee

Interesting creatures. I heard they sleep most of the day. I hope I could bring my kids there soon. Thanks for the heads-up!

42 Husher50

Something to keep in mind when diving or snorkeling with manatees

43 newmediaist12

I saw some manatees at Sea World Florida last year. They have this really nice exhibit too. It would be nice to swim with manatees though. I hope I get to visit Crystal River on our next trip to Florida.

44 WilmaP

Great photos! I wish I could bring my family there too.

45 H delacruz

Is it just me or is there anybody else here who wants to go to Florida this weekend? ** NYC Shoemoney Fan Club **

46 KrisM77

I noticed in the picture that you’re just looking at it. They don’t encourage swimmers and divers to touch manatees, right?

47 spameater

Manatees are so gentle that you can pet them without any risk of potential hostility from them. Combine meekness with grace and you’ll end up with these creatures. More like a marine mammal counterpart of Shaw, eh? What do you think, Shoe?

48 ExclaimedIdeas

I believe you’re referring to Shaq. That guy’s huge and graceful in the hardcourt. The only difference is manatees are cute…hee hee! Best wishes from Tulsa.

49 floresparati

Isn’t it illegal to touch endangered species?

50 The American Dream

I also had the opportunity with swimming with these magnificent giants way back in ’96 some 300 miles off Bondi Coast in Australia. Man, these babies are huge! I saw a 9-footer just lounging about munching sea grass with no care in the world. Love to swim with them again when I have the time (and money). That’s why I’m having a double-time strategy for the Shoemoney formula these days. *wink* Props for the nice pictures.

51 Marnie Sho

My parents are avid diving enthusiasts and they told me that they once thought that they were swimming with a pod of bottlenose dolphins when they had a getaway in the Bahamas in 2003. When my dad moved in for a closer look, he discovered it was a group of dugongs! Hope to have an experience like you had, Shoe.

52 twitteraddict05

I fell in love with dugongs, sea cows and manatees ever since my first trip to the Central Aquarium in San Diego more than a decade ago. Thanks for posting this, Shoe. Back to business, though. Are you still accepting students for your Shoemoney sessions? I still haven’t received my confirmation mail yet. Hope you can look into this.

53 Kevin A

Manatees are sea cows.

54 PC Help

I have never heard of a manatee until now. Looks like a pretty cool experience though. Did it care that you were there swimming around, or did it just not move much?

55 GQmeansGeek

My wife and I brought our daughter to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium here in Powell, Ohio. She enjoyed watching the manatees and couldn’t stop talking about them on our way home. I think she’ll really have a great time if she could swim close to them.

56 Cristina Dy

The manatee had a close relative called the Stellar’s Sea Cow. It was much bigger and much gentler than the former, making it an easy target for hunters and trigger-happy colonists. Sadly, it became extinct in 1768 ;(

57 Robin Sterling

Stumbled upon these passages about the animal you’re referring to while surfing the web a couple of weeks ago:

The Steller’s sea cow was the largest of the sirenians (a group of marine mammals that includes Manatees and dugongs). At one time it inhabited the Pacific Rim from Japan to California. Climate change and native hunting reduced its range to the Aleutian Islands in Alaska.

It was there that a Russian explorer, Captain Vitus Bering, first saw and described the Stellar’s sea cow. He and his crew had been forced to spend the winter in Alaska when their ship became stranded. The year was 1741 and the sea cow was already rare; there were perhaps 1,000 to 2,000 individuals.

Bering’s crew killed many of the remaining sea cows for their meat and hides, and subsequent expeditions to the area killed the rest. The Steller’s sea cow probably was extinct more than 200 years.

58 thoushallpass

Of course their biggest threat comes from us. We continue to destroy the natural environment. We also pollute the waters and this has lead to a significant number of them being killed in the past couple of decades. We may be the brightest animals but definitely not the most compassionate.

59 Laney Pitt

Have you seen the episode of The Simpsons where Homer got beaten by a gang of manatees? That was funny shiznit! (2 thumbs up for the photos, Jeremy. Is this the same Crystal River that offers 300 bucks for scuba lessons?)

60 California Dreamin

I think you got that right. My boyfriend’s older brother spent the whole weekend taking underwater snapshots of sunken ships while on the tour. I heard they have prices that are as low as $90. Sounds like a great deal to me.

61 joonlee97

I like the last photo. You look like you really had a grand time swimming with the manatee. It must have been quite an experience.

62 Seb

What a great experience, I would love to do that. I grew up in Kenya in the 50′s and 60′s. My dad was a naturalist. In Africa there is a relative of the manatee called a dugong. I remember as a kid that one was captured because it had been wounded. It was put in a swimming pool where my dad swam with it all day, trying to patch it up. The story had a happy ending and the dugong was released back to the wild. Probably there are none left now. Oh, I see Robin mentions dugongs in the post above.

63 David R

Hope my kids can still have a dip with these critters. I’d love to own one as a pet and impress the ladies (so I’ll have kids). Catch my drift female Shoemoney fans?

64 Tammyexperiments

There’s a French cartoon about a manatee who works as an accountant. Forgot the title but it was a cult classic and had a lot of followers, too. Well, the only thing I’m following now is the Shoemoney Blog, baby!

65 Susan Armand

A witty segue, if you ask me. Nonetheless, manatees are found in coastal waterways, estuaries, salt water bays, rivers and canals, particularly where seagrass beds are located. Manatees are completely herbivorous and can eat 10-15% of their bodyweight daily. In captivity they are fed lettuce and other greens, and given elephant vitamins. I’ll ask my husband if we can spend a week or two in Florida next month for some manatee-watching. Thanks a million for the vacation idea.

66 Hollaback Will

Hats off to the nice pics! Great way to keep things fresh, Jeremy. Besides, all work and no play makes me a dull boy.

67 Jason S.

The Manatees have always been associated with Crystal River. But there are actually a lot of other amazing stuff you can do there. A couple of college buddies and I went hiking at Crystal River Preserve State Park almost two years ago. I swear that place was swarming with pelicans and other wildlife that I didn’t even know exist. An awesome place to visit. I’ve always wanted to come back.

68 socialanim00

dude, i don’t even know what a pelican is. thanks for the info. i can’t wait to visit that place and explore its interesting attractions.

69 EllaineR

How about stop surfing 4Chan and read more nature-themed websites? :D

70 Mark Dee

LOL nice one!

71 Andrew Says So

Sounds fun!

72 Paul Sabaj

It’s been a few years but Crystal River was a blast. Swam with the manatees and like you said well worth the trip. Scratch one from the bucket list

73 BigMoneyBrooklyn

A friend of mine was fined because a manatee accidentally got snagged on his fishing hook while angling for tarpon in Florida Keys. Who wouldn’t fall in love with that gentle creature?

74 RedBlack88

From hobnobbing with bunnies to snorkeling with manatees… now that’s what I call living the life. Nice post, btw.

75 smstudent

The best thing about manatees? They capable of exchanging 98% of their lungs capacity in one breath. Enough said.

76 ILoveMemes

For me it’s their ability to eat what amounts to 10-15% of their body weight. No wonder they grow so big!

77 Creative Marketer

As a former defensive tackle for PennState six years ago, I weigh 250 pounds. Just thinking about consuming 25 pounds daily for sustenance is a bit too much, isn’t it? I mean for manatees, it’s definitely alright but for humans? LOOOOOOOOOOOOOL!

78 NicMoon

You will only find manatee’s where they water is at least 60 degrees Fahrenheit. They tend to like it much warmer than that. If it’s legal, I could invite a manatee or two to spend the winter in my tub. ^_^

79 WhateverWorks

I read in the news that a lot of manatee deaths this year is being attributed to cold stress. I hope most of them could migrate in time before the colder months set in.

80 Mark Mead

I think the video for “Behind the Sun” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers would have been even much better if they picked manatees instead of dolphins to be the protagonists. What’s your say on this, Jeremy?

81 Kyle

Hey! I know that manatee! That’s my seatmate from last week’s Shoemoney session. LOL

82 John |

I spent a winter near the Everglades a few years ago and only saw a manatee once. And you definitely don’t swim there considering the alligators and other insects.

83 Steve @ Forex Trading System

Great underwater photo. We have a couple up here at the zoo but haven’t seen them out in the open like this before.

84 Nathaneal Mohr

very cool, glad you had a blast. I live a few hours from there on the beach…its pretty nice

85 Seb at Pedometer watches

I just came across it looks like a very worthwhile cause.

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