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Your Yak Or Mine: Manatee Magic

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On: Tue, Mar 26, 2013 at 8:56AM | By: Mel The Guide

Hi, everyone! I’m Mel the Guide, your professional kayak guide for the back bays and coastal wetlands here in Southwest Florida.

The weather is cool this time of year. In the mornings it’s around the upper 50s and by mid-day it reaches the low 80s. A good friend and past client, Martha from New Hampshire, emailed me saying she was going to be down in the area for the next few weeks and would like to get together for a paddle so she could some get some photos of manatees. I said I was free the next week and I would keep my eyes open for a few small pods of manatees on my next kayak tour on the back bay.

The problem I was encountering was that the wind picks up this time of the year and that makes it hard to get a decent picture with a chop on the water on the back bays. I watched the weather for the next few days, but there was still going to be some wind.

When this happens I look for plan B, some place were the wind would not be a factor, like inland. I emailed Martha that I thought we should go to the Lee County Manatee Park across from the FPL power plant. It is inland and on the Orange river with cover on both sides of the river to block the wind. Martha was free the next day and she had company for the rest of the week, so the next day it was.

To get there, you go south on I-75 till exit 141, then go east about 1½ miles till you see the FPL power plant. Across the street is a large blue Manatee Park sign.

I got there about 9:30am for the 10am launch, and Martha had already set up her yak at the ramp. I went to the bulletin board in front of the office and rest rooms, where there is a box of envelopes and a drop box. The fees for the park are $2 an hour or $5 a day. I took an envelope and put in my $5, took the tag with a number on it, and placed the tag on the dash so they could see we paid. Martha gave me a hand unloading my yak and gear at the ramp and we were on the water by 10:05, as planned.

There is a small trail to paddle through the woods before you get out on the Orange river. To the right is a canal that has a large fence across the opening to a canal. The fence stops boat and kayak traffic from going up the canal. The fence is above water level, so the manatees can swim up the canal.

As we turned to the right, we saw many canoes and kayaks siting at the opening under the fence. There were about 20 to 25 manatees on top of the water and maybe a few more still under the water.

Now if you are not familiar with what a manatee is let me explain. First, as I always say, a manatee is about 1,200 lbs. of love. They are truly gentle giants. They have a round-shaped head, a body like a seal, and a tail like a beaver or mermaid. Their skin or hide is like that of a elephant. They have two small flippers or hands. Their toe nails are like an elephant’s also. Why?? Because they are related to elephants, not dolphins or whales. They have no ears like we would call ears, just a dent behind their eyes that picks up vibrations. They are mammals, so they breathe air like us and have sex and babies like we humans do.

The baby takes about 12 months to be born. When the baby is born it weighs about 30 lbs. The baby suckles on mom who has a tit located up under each flipper. Mom eats manatee grass; a lactating mother must eat up to 300 lbs. of grass a day to be able to supply the baby with the nutritious milk. The baby will gain about 1½ lbs a week just from just mom’s milk. Mom is taught to be a vegetarian. But she has been known to eat branches, bark, leaves and berries if there is no grass, so she is also a herbivore.

Martha and I stayed for a few minutes so she could get some pictures of the kayaks and manatees. We stayed out on the water for a few hours and paddled out to the Caloosahatchee River and went to some of the bird islands across from the I-75 bridge.

On a sad note we did encounter one small dead manatee along the way up in the mangroves. If you should ever come across a dead or sick manatee or dolphin, take GPS readings or get as good a location as possible, and call Fish and Wildlife. They will respond with a team to help, or to remove the body.

All and all we had a great time, and we are looking forward to doing it again. Should you like to go kayaking with us on another adventure, please give us a call so we can tell you what we have available that week. Don’t forget to look us up on Google under Mel The Guide and see some of our other fun paddles we have done. We now offer many launch sites in south west Florida to cover the back bays and island adventures on North Captiva

As always, thanks for paddling with Mel The Guide.


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