Amazing Manatee Encounter Filmed on Fort Lauderdale Beach (VIDEO)
Usually when you see a dark mass swimming among the waves along a Florida beach, it's best to stay out of the water just in case it's a shark. But Florida beachgoers recently received the surprise of a lifetime when a group of 5 or 6 manatees swam right up to them and played in the shallows for at least 30 minutes.
The footage (seen below) was captured by Craig and Gina Hossack, local residents who were out enjoying the first truly spectacular stretch of weather in a while. Craig couldn't believe his luck when he realized what exactly those dark masses in the water really were: harmless, vegetarian sea cows.
"They stuck their snouts out of the water and I was like, 'No way!'," said Hossack in an interview with the Sun Sentinel.
It didn't take long for the playful group of manatees to attract a large crowd of curious beachgoers. Check out the full video here:
West Indian manatees are more typically found wallowing in the slow-moving freshwater rivers and estuaries of South Florida, but they do occasionally swim out into the open ocean, often sticking close to the coast. This kind of encounter is rare, but not unheard of.
In fact, stray Florida manatees have been spotted as far north as Cape Cod. As recently as 2006, one was even seen in New York City's Hudson River. Manatees have difficulty keeping warm if water temperature drops below below 68 °F though, so these extreme cases are usually the result of a manatee veering perilously off course.
It's not entirely clear what exactly these very lively manatees were up to. It looks like they're mating, but the Sun Sentinel article suggests it may actually be nursing behavior, with several calves competing for suckling opportunities. Whatever they were doing, the good news is that they didn't seem disturbed by the hoard of raucous human onlookers.
Lifeguards can be seen in the video trying to keep people away, with varying degrees of success. Though manatees might be gentle giants, they can still pose a risk to humans who get too close because of their sheer size. Of course, it's also important to consider the welfare of the animals. Such close encounters with people can upset their natural behavior, or cause them unneeded stress.
All three species of manatee are considered vulnerable to extinction, and it is illegal under federal and Florida law to injure or harm a manatee. So while they might look like they're fun to swim with, it's generally best to keep your distance.