Playful manatee swims through my legs as I’m standing in the waters of Fort Myers Beach

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Beach-goers crowd around manatees near Fort Lauderdale

A group of manatees recently entertained some beach-goers near Fort Lauderdale, Florida, as shown in the now-popular YouTube video embedded below. About the same time, I had an amazing manatee encounter straight across the state on Fort Myers Beach. I don’t have a video of my encounter, but I have a story I can tell for years because I had a small manatee actually sneak up behind me as I stood in about four feet of water, scrape against my right left, knocking my left leg upward as he smoothly swam right through my legs. Here’s how it happened:

My wife and I were walking along Fort Myers Beach in about the middle of Estero Island when we saw a man in his mid-30s in the water and lots of people on shore pointing into the water near him. “What do you see?” we asked. “Manatees,” they said. “He is trying to see how close he can get.”

As the man looked around, we suddenly saw a manatee surface about six feet behind him. Then we saw two, three, four more manatees nearby, surfacing one by one circling him.

Since I wearing a swimsuit, I decided to join him, and behind me about four women wandered into the water too. In four feet of water (chest high), about 50 feet into the Gulf of Mexico, I was looking around trying to spot one of the playful manatees up close, but the manatees kept bobbing up and swimming away, then reappearing, usually behind us so we couldn’t see them. It seemed very much like they were toying with us.

I was in the water no more than five minutes, scanning my head back and forth looking for the manatees, when I suddenly felt a bump against the back of my right leg, and then my left leg was pushed out from under me. One of the manatees was literally swimming through my legs! I was propelled gently upward and as I reached my hand down into the water, partly to balance myself and partly out of instinct, my fingers scraped across the back of manatee as he smoothly glided under my body. I could feel his rough skin against both my right leg and my hand as he passed under me. I looked down and could see his body whisking by but he moved so fast I only got a glimpse of the back of his body.

As soon as he came, he was gone again. The women behind me laughed at the way I was bumped upward by the manatee, which, they said, must have had a good laugh himself.

I am not sure how large this manatee was but since the average adult manatee is about 10 feet long and weighs between 800 and 1,200 pounds, I suspect they was a younger, smaller manatee.

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Manatees are intelligent and social animals. Savethemanatee.org provides this description of these gentle giants:

“Most of their time is spent eating, resting, and traveling. Manatee are mostly herbivorous, however small fish and invertebrates can sometimes be ingested along with a manatee’s normal vegetation diet. They eat a large variety of submerged, emergent, and floating plants and can consume 10-15% of their body weight in vegetation daily. Because they are mammals, they must surface to breathe air. They may rest submerged at the bottom or just below the surface of the water, coming up to breathe on an average of every three to five minutes. When manatees are using a great deal of energy, they may surface to breathe as often as every 30 seconds. When resting, manatees have been known to stay submerged for up to 20 minutes. Manatees can swim up to 20 miles per hour in short bursts, but they usually only swim about three to five miles per hour.”

Here is the Fort Lauderdale video:

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