Commonly nicknamed "Gentle Giants", Florida manatees attract countless visitors to Citrus County's pristine Crystal River and Homosassa River every year. Even though these wild mammals can be found year round, the legendary encounters of seeing hundreds of them only occur on chilly winter mornings, when the animals awake from a heated nights rest in and around one of the multiple springs that supply freshwater to these two gulf coast rivers. One particular manatee, a young male named Bumpy, has returned this year but something about him is different.
Originally named so for the pleated skin pattern that young manatees have, and his strong demand for attention, Bumpy's appearance has changed to the smoother skin that adults have, but luckily his friendly nature hasn't. Mike Winkles, a PADI Master Instructor at American Pro Diving Center in Crystal River, claims "Bumpy's Back! And he's up to his old tricks again". Mike goes on to explain, "Bumpy is recognized now by personality alone, he will come up from behind and nudge you if you ignore him." Spending a majority of his mornings leading manatee tours, Mike seems to have personal relationships with certain manatees, and Bumpy maybe considered one of Mr. Winkles' better friends, as he explains "Talking about Bumpy makes my Fiancé really jealous, I spend more time with him than any human."
But "Gentle" is just one adjective that describes the unique Floridian "Giants" like Bumpy. Florida manatees are inquisitive, playful and extremely affectionate animals that include humans in their inventory of things to play with. Snorklers can attract the friendly natives simply by being calm, and encounters can last as long as a person's tolerance for the 72 degree water (3 mil full length wetsuit is recommended).
It is believed that these animals approach participating visitors for the sole reason of a good back scratch and a satisfying belly rub, but the eye contact made with humans is evidence of the affectionate personalities these mammals can have. Remaining at the surface people can play with the super-sized puppy dogs by petting, scratching, and rubbing them with one hand. The classic sign of approval is the animal's tendency to role over, exposing their algae free undersides to the heavens. This can be interpreted as a demanding signal that means "give me attention!"
Experiencing two or more "Gentle Giants", is fascinating, they approach each other at very slow speeds and nuzzle faces together just as people would shake hands. Hugging, grabbing, and swimming circles are other ways manatees enjoy each other's company, and performing these same actions with the human visitors from topside makes the experience all the more special. As a well known law in Citrus County, feeding the manatee is prohibited, just as it is illegal everywhere else; creating a real sense of enjoyment from both species involved in a tour. Besides just being in the water, another way of turning on the manatee's playful nature is to dangle ropes from the side of the boat, which is also referred to as manatee dental floss on these two remote rivers.
The fact that humans can share intimate moments with an undomesticated wild mammal should be enough inspiration for anybody wanting to encounter these native Floridians to do so. Vacationers from outside the United States often claim this activity as a once-in-a-lifetime experience, while Americans usually make self-promises of a revisit. Allow the Staff at American Pro Diving Center to accommodate your snorkeling and diving needs this winter, and you too will be able to experience wonderful manatees like Bumpy, or even possibly Bumpy himself.