New Things: Swim With A Manatee

Every year I make a list of new things I want to try.  Some of them are easy, some are hard, some are shockingly mundane.  You can read about past shenanigans here.

Here is my list of favorite animals:
1. Otters
2. Prairie dogs
3. Manatees
(Cats aren’t on this list because they’re not so much a ‘favorite animal’ as an ‘overarching theme in my life/family member’.)

And once I discovered the Calming Manatee meme, it was all over. Life pretty much became a hunt for opportunities to encounter a cow of the sea and maaaaaybe touch his sweet whiskery face if he’d let me.  So when I started planning a trip to Mexico and discovered Xel-ha and their manatee swimming offerings – well, there were lots of emails written in all caps.Let us a take a moment to acknowledge that interacting with non-domesticated animals is not totally unproblematic. Swimming with a clever mammal who was raised in the wild and now lives in a swimming pool isn’t very nice, is it? So I spent a bit of time researching Xel-ha was relieved to discover that their manatees were rescues (or born in captivity from their rescued parents) and are part of research program about endangered animals in captivity. Of slightly less importance: THEIR NAMES ARE PUG NOSE AND LITTLE BEAN.

A list of awesome things about this experience:
* Learning that their names are Pug Nose and Little Bean (this bears repeating)
* Learning about their favorite foods and then feeding Little Bean broccoli and apples and feeling his sweet whiskery mouth on my hand
* Just generally looking at his little teddy bear face and imagining him saying calming things to me
* Shaking flippers with him
* Watching his little nose sniff at the surface of the water
* Patting his soft, algae covered back
* Swimming in his general vicinity and feeling zen and joyful.

In April, my dude and I are heading to Tampa for a conference and mermaids and we’re also hoping to kayak the Weeki Wachee river and see even mooooore manatees. Though I imagine those manatees won’t be named Little Bean.

Have you ever swum with manatees or anything interesting animal?  I’m bummed I missed swimming with dolphins in open water when I lived in New Zealand!


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  1. Carly Kaste

    I cannot believe you got to do this! I've only swam with dolphins once at Discovery Cove, but I was so young I hardly remember it. Swimming with manatees is definitely on my bucket list!

  2. Allison Lizer

    How cool! Apparently we have kindred spirit animals. My favorite animals are 1) dogs 2) prairie dogs 3) manatees.

    I never thought to look up manatee swimming opportunities though because I've only ever heard about dolphins. Thanks for the idea!

  3. Ashley

    I live in Orlando and wanted to suggest that you pay Blue Springs State Park a visit while you're in Florida if you get a chance! It's about two hours away from Tampa, but is a manatee mecca. It's a natural habitat, so you can't swim with them, but there are boat tours and paths over the water for viewing.

    Here are some links…
    Blue Springs:
    Manatee Cam!:
    Trip Advisor:

  4. Anonymous

    Why don't you ever stick to the list that you originally started with? It sort of defeats the purpose, doesn't it?

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Because life frequently offers up opportunities I previously hadn't considered 🙂

  5. Traci

    How fun! Manatees are amazing animals. I've never swam with anything fun, but swimming on dolphins is on my to do list.

  6. Ninie Pouce

    Wow amazing !!!

  7. Michelle

    Oh my gosh, my parents live in Homosassa, which is between Weeki Wachee and Crystal River. You HAVE to go swimming with the manatees with Captain Don. He and his wife are so sweet and funny…filled with great knowledge about manatees and all the surrounding wildlife, and TONS of hilarious stories. Captain Don is also a sculptor and his fiberglass sculptures are visible from the road, and he'll gladly tell you all about each one. He's such a character, I really think he is the type of guy you'd enjoy spending the morning with :o) He really respects the manatees and the environment. My family and I have gone twice, and thoroughly enjoyed both trips. Highly recommend!!! Manatees are my favorite animal/spirit animal, and it was definitely a dream come true to swim with them!

    I also recommend the Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park just up Route 19. They have six or seven rescued manatees in a partitioned off are of the river. It's a very cool little zoo/park.

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Oooh! Fun! Thanks for the recommendation!

  8. Unknown

    How freaking cool is that?

  9. Anonymous

    What a wonderful experience! I love manatees as well. Whiskery looking potatoes. When you get the chance, swim with whale sharks. I have done it three times in Mexico, and it has changed my life. At first I was so afraid, but you really can't be afraid of something sporting polka dots. Amazing.

  10. Stacia, the Homey Owl

    I swam with dolphins in Hawaii many years ago, but I would LOVE to swim with manatees. They were always some of my favorites!

  11. Ruth

    I would love to do something like this. When I visited Xcaret, I saw the manatees from a distance and they were so cute. I will also like to see them in the wild.

  12. Sarah Marie

    How fun! I totally want to do that as well! I swam with the dolphins in Kaikoura, it was such an unreal experience to swim with a pod of dolphins! I can imagine it would be amazing to swim with the gentle manatee as well! 🙂

  13. Meghan

    For all the dolphin lovers who have or dream of swimming with them, I highly recommend the film The Cove. As Sarah wrote, "interacting with non-domesticated animals is not totally unproblematic."

    • Meghan

      And Sarah, I really respect that you took the time to make sure these animals were not procured inhumanly and that they are being well-treated.

  14. Aqiyl Aniys

    I love this! This reminds me of a miss opportunity I had when I was in Jamaica for a wedding. I stayed at a hotel in Negril for a couple of days and realized the hotel offered scuba lessons to see the wildlife in the ocean. I didn't have the time to do it, but hopefully I will get the opportunity again.

  15. Anonymous

    nice share

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