I watched an episode of Aquakids (yes, Aquakids) on TV. At first I wasn't going to watch it because I'm no longer into Saturday morning kid's shows. I changed my mind when they said that the kids would be swimming with manatees!
My first big dive vacation was a trip to Florida to SCUBA dive and swim with these same manatees, an awesome marine mammal that is related to elephants.
A long drive from Wisconsin to Florida brought us to the Florida Keys and a couple of beautiful dives on coral reefs. Following these great experiences, our caravan proceeded to our next stop: Crystal River, the wintering grounds of the Florida Manatee.
Manatees are large marine mammals: slower than dolphins; smaller than whales; bigger than us. They are also the only marine mammals to be completely herbivorous (plant-eating). Swimming with these gentle giants was a remarkable experience. I even got to touch one as it swam by!
While in Crystal River my dive group adventured out for one night dive--in a cave. Late one night, long after the sun went down, we got in the boat and carefully, while we avoided sleeping manatees, motored out to our dive spot. It was a moonless night and the only visible light was from the flashlight lighting our way. I was shivering, although I wasn't cold. My dive instructor, Rick, suggested that he be my dive buddy. I relaxed immediately upon this suggestion. With Rick in close proximity, I knew I would be safe.
Night diving was amazing. I felt, but didn't see, the fish as they swam past me. I heard, but didn't see, the swarm of bubbles being exhaled from my fellow divers' regulators. I listened carefully for sounds of popping shrimp, croaking fish, grunting seals or chirping manatees, but I heard only the sounds of the human intruders (us). At one point, we all turned off our flashlights, which made us feel really immersed in the underwater world.
Today, I stay in touch with my marine biology side by watching shows like this, going whale watching, attending conferences, and, of course, teaching marine biology!