For the unaware snorkeller, coming face to face with one of these enormous underwater mammals might cause a bit of panic.
But these rotund creatures want nothing more than their bellies scratched as they float around the warmer waters near Crystal River, Florida.
Several freshwater springs attract the gentle manatees when their usual ocean habitat becomes too cold in the winter.
Underwater photographer Alex Mustard travelled to the west coast of Florida to capture the animals as they congregate together to escape the cold.
He said: ‘Manatees live life at a slow pace, so when you swim with them you are forced to chill down to their speed.
‘They’re just floating about in a sort of zen state. Then, when they come up to you and want you to scratch them, it is so exciting – you get a real connection.’
The 36-year-old said photographing manatees was an easy task because of their laid-back nature.
He said: ‘Manatees are big and, if you don’t stress them, very friendly, so they are easy to get close to the camera.
‘If you give one a good scratch, it will remember and 30 minutes later you will feel a nudge in your side – and there is the same individual wanting another tickle!
‘The babies are the most playful, and I think the adults are happy to have snorkellers entertain their energetic youngsters while they get some sleep.’
There’s more at the link, including more photographs. Interesting reading.
I’ve never seen a manatee, but it’s on my ‘bucket list’. I’ve seen a dugong, which I understand is a related animal. Fascinating creatures . . . I’d love to know how they evolved, and what particular ecological niche they came to occupy. To me, creatures like the manatee and dugong (not to mention the platypus, which some regard as proof positive that the Creator has a sense of humor!) exemplify Shakespeare’s words in Hamlet:
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.