How curious are manatees? What happens when a snorkeler quietly floats nearby? Are we watching manatees or are they watching us? Let me give you a glimpse of my project to document passive, polite observation at the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, Florida.
For many years now I have been observing and photographing manatees in and around the springs of Crystal River, Florida. This is one of the few places in Florida where it is legal to closely observe this charismatic and treasured marine mammal. The area is managed by the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge established in 1983 for the protection of endangered Florida manatees.
My speciality is to showcase manatees in their beautiful warm freshwater winter habitat. Jennifer Worthington, the talented Marketing and Graphic Design Director at Visit Citrus, contacted me a couple of years ago and asked me to contribute to their pool of polite, no-touch, people and manatee photographs. At that time their collection of passive observation photographs was admittedly small, but Jennifer was determined to change all that! Also I’m no stranger to photographing polite manatee interaction as you can see from this photograph of my friend Michelle from 2008:
So a joint project was born. Jennifer needed to promote passive observation and that was a cause I could rally behind. The project is still on-going as it is not only challenging to photograph manatees in beautiful water and light, but adding in polite people presents additional logistical and photographic challenges.
How do you get the models to arrive at the right time when manatees are in the clearest water and best light? The manatee’s and people’s skin tones are so different, how is it balanced? Ahhhh, there are challenges, and I love challenges! I have a good knowledge of how the springs change from day to day and hour to hour. Also, I prefer to enlist people I that I know love manatees, it shows in their eyes and body posture. Most importantly the manatees must not be disturbed as that is unkind, unethical and against the law. So I have to thank my very patient and sometimes cold but invigorated models for their contributions! Many times people don’t realize how cool it is in the wintertime in the springs and I’m always concerned more with models staying warm than the look of the photograph. Luckily, the manatees are concerned with warmth also as everything seems to come together eventually. I think you will enjoy these recent examples of man (or in this case wonderful women) engaging in polite in-water observation on the manatee’s terms.
Where is the blue spring water? Frequently, manatees don’t venture back to the clearer springs due to temperatures and tidal flux. This was taken out front of Three Sisters when my friend Yoshie from Tokyo was visiting. The polite excitement of a first-time encounter is still priceless, even if the water is less-than-clear. November 2013.
In closing I’ll leave you with another two of Meredith, as she definitely has a special rapport with these sirenians. Again note, by floating quietly with hands to yourself the best encounters can be realized. I think it is true that blondes have more fun?
For many more polite man and manatee interaction photographs please visit my website gallery here: Oceangrant – Man and Manatees