I felt a bump under my paddle board, and I was concerned that I had hit a submerged tree, until I realized that the young manatee following us up the Wakulla River was now under my board! This journey began an hour earlier, and it was the second group of manatee that we encountered that day.
We spotted the first group of about five manatee when we saw the shallow parts of the river all muddied up, and we realized that there was a train of them, nose to tail, drafting each other up the strong river current. They crossed through the deeper section all in a line, kind of like ducks crossing the road. This group all appeared to be quite large, and we did not see any younger, smaller ones.
Continuing up river, we spotted a small alligator, perched precariously on the side of the dead tree; he looked like he was hanging on for his life, but he was determined to get warm in the mid-morning sun. I have not completely mastered taking pictures from the paddle board, but since this fellow was not going anywhere, I was able to get a couple of pictures from each side.
The problem with photography and the paddle board is that the board is almost always moving at least a little bit, and in a strong current it is moving quite fast without even paddling. This complicates getting the subject matter in the right position, before the board moves again, and before the subject decides to flee the scene. Once in a while it works though!
After winding our way up river, and encountering a split in the river, we saw some movement in the water again. This small section that breaks away from the river provides a quiet area where bigger boats can’t go, and it is filled with grasses, making a perfect manatee brunch spot.
A juvenile manatee started following my husband’s paddle board, his nose to the tail of the board, almost like the manatees we saw earlier in the train formation. This group had a very large adult (mom), and two young manatees. At first we thought the juveniles were twins, but after we saw them a couple of times we realized that one was definitely bigger than the other, more like a teenager.
The teen and the baby were being very playful, and it seemed that mom was ready for a break from their antics, so she wondered off to the bank of the river to eat, and left the younger ones with us. The youngest one came up to the side of the board and blew bubbles, then turned on its back next to the board, as if to say hi.
I was trying to get pictures of this and missed almost every shot, and then I felt the bump under my board. This area has some downed trees in the river, and it is fairly shallow, so I was concerned about hitting something. I realized that the baby was under my board, so I quickly got into a lower position on the board so I did not end up in the water on the manatee. He bumped my board several times, playfully, and then swam off to the side. The teenager was watching most of this, following us around, while the mom still acted as if she couldn’t care less.
We floated a bit downstream, and then mother manatee corralled the youngsters to come eat lunch. I did manage to get a picture of them leaving.
It was also time for us to turn around and head back for lunch. Thanks to the river current that is so much work to paddle against upstream, we were then able to enjoy a leisurely float downstream on the way back. We later heard from kayaker that they too had seen a bubble blowing young manatee in that area of the river!