Thursday, February 7, 2013

Yaking with the Manatees in the Orange River

February 6, 2013
North Fort Myers, Florida
Seminole Campground

We returned to Manatee Park to experience kayaking alongside the manatees on the Orange River.  They have a great little launch area specifically for kayaks and canoes which are also for rent. The cost of the launch is just the $2.00 charge for parking. When we arrived, the launch area was quite busy with what looked like school fieldtrips and a large group of seniors who came together with their own cars and kayaks. It didn’t take too long though for everyone ahead of us to get into the river and before we knew it we were heading out the narrow pathway to meet the manatees.

It didn't take long to see our first group of manatees. Just as we headed into the main river, I had the pleasure of watching Vic's kayak get slightly upturned by one rising to the surface. They make a loud snort and sometimes shoot water out of their noses as they surface. This noise alone can get your adrenaline pumping.  We both decided that if we capsized we would be fine. Manatees are gentle creatures, we had on our life vests, our phones were in waterproof cases inside the hatches of our boats, and my camera is now covered for water damage.  So, with a renewed confidence, we headed down the river.

Not knowing which direction might be best to explore, we headed upstream a ways first but saw even fewer manatees and no wildlife so we decided to turn back downstream.  Heading back downstream near the main park area, the manatees are everywhere. It took some careful maneuvering to watch for their bubbles and shadows to avoid riding over them. Further down the river, the manatees mostly seemed to hover near the mangrove shore—probably the best area for feeding.  We enjoyed the peacefulness of the river and the lovely 80 degree day with a slight breeze, but felt disappointed in the lack of other wildlife sightings.  Except for a flight of swallows and a few pelicans near a pier, we saw no other birds on this trip.  Seemed unusual—maybe too warm in the shank of the day?

One thing I appreciated looking at was the reflection of the clouds in the glass-like water. There wasn’t a ripple anywhere except for the rise of the manatees.  While taking this photo below, I was surprised by one that lifted up the stern of my kayak. Vic was behind me and watched me as a I rode the manatee like a bucking horse. Definitely a bit of a thrill. I have said I wanted to go swimming with the manatees, but this wasn't what I was thinking. . . .

After a couple hours, we decided to head back. I had absentmindedly left our picnic lunch in the refrigerator, our nerves were getting a little testy, and the sun was growing more intense. On the return trip back upriver, we came up with a plan to ride side by side pedaling simultaneously based on the theory that the manatees would have a harder time tipping over two boats. It was actually pretty enjoyable. While we both agreed this was not our favorite place to kayak so far, it was definitely a unique and memorable experience. We made it back to the launch area with no further incidents, loaded up the boats, checked off the Manatee Park kayak launch from our list of trails on the Great Calusa Blueway, and headed back to the welcoming Big EZ for a late lunch and a dip in the pool.  Such a life!



  1. Sounds like you had a good time with the manatees. Mui would really like to snorkel with them, so I am sure there will be some manatee time in our future. Love all those reflections.


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