|You can tell that Tim is the|
shy and retiring type!
Before we hit the water, Tim started with a kayaking tutorial, the first I've ever had. After going over the basics--wide grip on the paddle, wide feet to maintain balance--he talked about the importance of not leaning over the side of the kayak to get a better look at the manatees. The objective of the day was to kayak with them, not to swim with them! (After he told us about the aquatic parasites that live on manatees and how they can get into your system if you come into contact with them, I was all in favor of staying safely on top of the water!) Then we were off!
While we were floating around, Tim gave us some manatee fun facts. As Susan learned at a young age, manatees are endangered. The manatees we were sharing the Orange River with were of the West Indian species, and there are between 3200 and 4900 left in existence. Manatees in captivity (like at the Mote Aquarium in Sarasota) will live approximately 65 years; in their natural habitats, their life expectancy is reduced to 25 years due in part to encounters with boats. Manatees generally travel between five and seven miles an hour (so they can travel the 22 miles from the Gulf to where we were in a morning's time). They ARE in fact hairy, and the whiskers (vibrissae) that sprout from their snouts are attached to nerve endings and are put to use while scavenging for food.
After hanging with the manatees for a while, we paddled up the River, stopping at a number of "education stations" along the way. (Tim is a Florida naturalist and was eager to share his knowledge with the group.) The most memorial tidbit that he shared is that Spanish moss is part of the pineapple family (if you can figure that one out, let me know!) and was used for stuffing car seats, pillows and mattresses until people realized that the moss carries pesky little insects known as chiggers. (As someone pointed out, they might have been the original bedbugs!)