2.07.2017

Tropical Vay-Kay Day Five - Manatee Mania and Dolphin Delight

Preamble

I seem to recall reading somewhere that the best formula for giving a speech or writing an essay is threefold. First, you tell your audience what you are going to tell them. Second, you tell your audience what you told them you were going to tell them. Third, you tell your audience what you just told them. I'm going to try the formula here.

I'm going to tell you about our kayak outing on Tarpon Bay today, which far exceeded all my expectations about getting punched in the metaphorical face by Mother Nature. I'm also going to show you two videos of a dolphin getting up close and personal with us and a rare sighting of an elusive wild manatee, respectively, that were captured on said kayaking trip.

Phase 1

"If a guy were to see a manatee, where would be the most likely place?" I asked the girl behind the counter at the kayak rental place on the shore of Tarpon Bay.

"Out in the bay," she said. "They feed on sea grass, which is all over out there. The water is a little too cold for them right now, so they might not be there, but we saw one yesterday. They are not on the trail though."

The trail that the girl was referring to was not a land based path as most of us landlubbers think of it. She was talking about a waterway that wound through the mangrove forests surrounding Tarpon Bay on the north side of Sanibel Island FL.

I'm a realist, so armed with that information - from a seemingly trustworthy source - I set my hopes reasonably high, but established that failure to see a manatee was a very real possibility. Tarpon Bay is a pretty large expanse of water and we would only kayak across a fraction of it this day. My big picture goal for this Florida trip is to see a manatee (or several) in the wild. If I didn't see one today, we had a backup plan to go see some in a much more reliable viewing location in Fort Meyers tomorrow.

It's somewhat of a fact of nature that when you least expect to see something, that's when you'll see it. I had my mind so focused on seeing a manatee that I gave no thought to the possibility of seeing a bottle-nosed dolphin up close and personal, which is exactly what happened.

We were kayaking with Deborah's brother and sis-in-law, Mark and Michelle. They spotted the dolphin first, splashing around near the entrance to the aqueous trail through the mangroves as we approached it.

"I think it's feeding," Mark said. We were a little way behind his and Michelle's double kayak. I pulled my smart phone from my pocket and turned on the video camera as Deborah paddled us toward the aquatic mammal. Usually when I try to film things in nature, they don't cooperate at all. But then this happened. Forgive the cheesy soundtrack I added.


I quickly added see a dolphin up close and personal to my mental bucket list and subsequently checked it off. We paddled on into the mangroves and had a pleasant trek through the area, seeing lots of waterfowl and jumping fish (called mullet). We were probably in the mangrove forest for about an hour or so. The so-called trail went in a big loop and eventually spit us back out in Tarpon Bay at the same spot we went in.

Since Deborah's shoulder hurt, I was doing the lion's share of the paddling in our double kayak, so I decided to paddle us out toward the middle part of the bay, where the water looked darker and was presumably deeper, in a last ditch effort to find a wild manatee grazing about before we had to head back to shore. Mark and Michelle followed us. Unbelievably, a short time later and not too far away from us, a gun metal grey snout broke the surface of the water and we heard the unmistakable* exhale of a wild manatee. I hastily but carefully pulled my smart phone out of my pocket again to try to capture untamed nature as a string of ones and zeroes on its memory card. We were not entirely sure if we were seeing just one manatee or a couple, but whatever the case, it or they were far less cooperative than the energetic dolphin above. Eventually though, I captured this pretty footage. Note the rounded tail flipper of the manatee that appears briefly, confirming the sighting.


We followed the manatee(s) around for a while, trying to get more visuals, but it/they were very shy animals and we were starting to feel a bit stalkerish, so we eventually let them be and returned to shore.

To conclude, in the course of just a couple hours of kayaking, we had encountered two cool large aquatic mammals. My primary bucket list goal for this week was to see a manatee in the wild. I had been fairly certain I could accomplish that goal, because there is a place nearby in Fort Meyers where wild manatees congregate at this time of year, in the warm discharge waters near a power plant (the ocean temperatures get too cold for the beasts in "winter," so they migrate to warmer inland waters). However, that would have necessitated a somewhat lengthy drive to Fort Meyers and a $6 toll on our return trip to Sanibel after MAYBE seeing manatees. I am really grateful and thankful to Mother Nature for simplifying matters considerably. We had planned to go kayaking in Tarpon Bay anyway, and I would have been fully happy and content paddling around the mangroves, even if we didn't see any marine life whatsoever (although, were that the case, it would probably mean some kind of ecological disaster had transpired). So my expectations were far exceeded today and I crossed a primary goal off my bucket list ahead of schedule. Plus, as an added bonus, I saw a frisky dolphin up close and personal too. So you see how I came back around and basically concluded by summarizing what I already told you?

Here's an additional fun fact. We learned last Friday, whilst kayaking off Sarasota FL, that manatees can transition between salt and freshwater at will. But what we did not learn last Friday, because we didn't ask our naturalist guide, is what do manatees drink when they are in salt water?

We speculated that perhaps they are able to drink and process salt water, but the Giant Internet Brain contradicted that hypothesis. In fact, manatees can only drink fresh water, not salt water, so they must periodically find a source of fresh water. They can go about a week without drinking fresh water. There...you learned something today.

Phase 2

After the kayak outing, the four of us returned to the timeshare condo, by way of a quick grocery store stop, and chillaxed poolside before making a home cooked dinner that included salad, chicken, fish, turkey burgers, and some Larabars for dessert.

Before the kayaking, I'd like to note, Mark and Michelle took Deborah and I out for a great lunch at a place called the Blue Giraffe. I had mahi mahi fish tacos that were superb, so much thanks to M and M for that nice lunch outing.

I'm currently sitting on the balcony of the second floor condo facing the sea, listening to the soothing sound of the waves in the night. It's mostly cloudy, about 65 Fahrenheit degrees, with a gentle sea breeze out of the southwest. There's a little bit of wet weather passing by us to the east, around Fort Meyers, but it doesn't look like any weather will make it to where we are. And this is pretty awesome...


Ciao!

*Note: Truth be told, I had no idea what the exhale of a wild manatee sounded like before that moment.

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