Man and Manatee Project

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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.

Floating quietly with hands to oneself is the best way to invite a profound interaction. This adult female manatee is curious about Meredith and is approaching to say hello. January 2014.Florida manatee, snorkeler, curious

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:

My friend Michelle is approached by an inquisitive manatee during a lovely morning with rainbow light rays! December 2008.Florida manatee, snorkeler, clear water springs

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.

Jennifer and Meredith observe a small calf at play from a distance. January 2014.Manatee calf, two snorkelers, passive observation

An adult female manatee curiously approaches a delighted Jennifer and Meredith. January 2014.Florida manatee, two snorkelers, Three Sisters Springs

Peaceful observation of the Florida manatee is the best! Meredith is a magnet for this curious female manatee. January 2014.Florida manatee, snorkeler, polite, passive observation

Clear blue spring water is always a treat to photograph in and Meredith and a manatee are reveling in the warmth and beauty of Three Sisters Springs. February 2014, on my Birthday!Manatee breath, snorkeler observes, blue water, Three Sisters Springs

Manatees have different personalities and this female has an impish quality as she wouldn’t leave Cora’s side. January 2014.Female manatee, snorkeler, curious gaze

Denise is rather excited to have an investigative female manatee nuzzling on her mask strap! March 2014.Female manatee, nuzzles, snorkeler, Three Sisters Springs

Alisha floats quietly while observing a manatee in the crystal clear Three Sisters Springs. February 2014.Florida manatee, passive observation, floating, crystal clear blue water

 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.Manatee, snorkeler floating, out front of sanctuary

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?

Best, Carol

Meredith and a curious female manatee. Obviously, blondes do have more fun 🙂 January 2014.Female manatee, playing with hair, snorkeler floats quietly

It is a privilege to observe a mother manatee with her calf. Meredith is so quiet, this mother manatee was very comfortable having her near to admire her small calf. February 2014, on my Birthday!Manatee mom and calf, very quiet floating snorkeler, passive observation, undisturbed

For many more polite man and manatee interaction photographs please visit my website gallery here:  Oceangrant – Man and Manatees

2 thoughts on “Man and Manatee Project

  1. What a wonderful site! Thank you for your efforts designed to promote passive observation. The manatees will certainly benefit from your efforts. Photography is the best I have ever seen. You have a gift- and are using it for a good cause. Thank you for helping my beloved manatees.

    • Thank you so much Philicia! We have put a lot of thought and work into promoting passive observation as you noticed! I hope it helps with a “middle-path” solution to observing the manatees that we so treasure! I try to tell the manatee’s story through my photographs. Thanks Again!

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