No, not in the Chesapeake Bay (although Chessie is proof that it can happen).
Doug and I went to visit friends in Tampa, FL over New Year's. About a week before we were scheduled to leave, I came across a random article on Yahoo about the top snorkeling sites in the world. Always a glutton for the punishment of reading about trips I cannot afford to take, I happily clicked on the link. The tenth location listed was snorkeling with manatees in the hot springs of Crystal River, FL.
Wait! Florida?!? Hmm....help me Mapquest. How far is Crystal River from Tampa? Only one hour? How can I make this happen?
I started researching and discovered that the best time to see the manatees is between November and March. The Gulf of Mexico gets too cold for them so hundreds of them move into the warmer water of this river.
As my friends know, I'm a bit of an animal lover. So, I wanted to find a reputable place for my excursion. This time it was TripAdvisor to the rescue. There are many places that offer snorkeling with manatee trips in the Crystal River. After reading many reviews and calling around, I booked a trip for three of us with RiverVentures.
We were on the 6:15am tour. If you plan to do this, take the earliest tour you can find. It may seem crazy to get on a boat and look for wildlife when the sun hasn't come up, but this is the best time to see and interact with the manatees. Plus the sun had come up by the time we reached our anchor spot.
We were given wetsuits at the dive shop, watched a short video about the rules and regulations about interacting with manatees, then set off for the boats. Our captain, Mike, was awesome! First off, he is a marine biologist so he knows and cares a lot about the animals. Second, he speaks many languages. We had a German couple on our boat and he was able to (minimally but effectively) communiate with them. Third, he was a friendly guy.
Florida was hit with a bit of a cold spell while we were there - it was December after all. So, it was only 41 degrees outside when we got in the water around 7am. But the water was 72 degrees! I was a little cold but quickly forgot when I saw my first manatee.
Snorkelers have to stay at the top of the water and let the manatees come to them. The first few I saw just nonchalantly swam underneath me. It wasn't long before we all got a chance to get up close and personal with a few playful manatees. When you touch them they will often roll over for a belly rub. One even nudged my husband to play when he wasn't paying it enough attention. And I got my Christmas wish - a manatee kiss. I had a manatee face within inches of my own face. We must have seen forty manatees on our trip including one that decided to make our anchor line into a chew toy.
This was the best wild animal interaction I have ever had and I highly recommend it to everyone. I also highly recommend RiverVentures. The reviews on TripAdvisor are right. They are great. Many thanks to our captain for taking so many photos of our group's interaction. We went home with a disc with over 200 photos (many seen along the side of this post).