A good thing about kayaking is that you are not limited to one area, or even one type of environment. Wherever there is water, you can go kayaking.
A lake, river, or ocean, it is equally possible for you to bring your paddling boat and have some active fun in nature.
That has been the prime reason why kayaking remains one of the most popular water sports and recreational activities, as well as why it is of so much help in other activities like fishing and hunting.
While things do appear to seem favorable with everything surrounding these small paddling vessels, not everything is at is seems.
There are hidden dangers with kayaking and situations where paddlers need to be careful.
Luckily, most of them are easily avoidable if we just use common sense and think about our skills and whether or not it is smart to do something.
One example of this is kayaking where you should not be kayaking, or at least how you should not be kayaking.
When out and about in nature, humans forget that they are not on their own territory and that there are other inhabitants that call it home.
With kayaking and water, we are disrupting the peace and quiet that the wildlife wants in their natural habitat.
Because of this, it is always important to remember that we are guests and that it is not pleasant to come to someone’s home and cause trouble.
This is particularly true when you knock on the door of something that can easily overpower you in water, the manatee.
Kayaking in manatee territory is common but not all kayakers realize it. There are three main species of this large animal, the Amazonian, West Indian, and West African manatee.
Their size is enough to startle any kayaker as they can be as much as 13 feet (4 meters) long and weigh 1,300 pounds (590).
Their paddle tails and fins allow them to move through the water with great ease and at great speeds, making their already intimidating physique even more of an issue.
If you consider their length, that is bigger than many kayaks, even the longer and more capable ones.
In a scenario where you are faced with a manatee and do not know or do not care how to behave, a simple bump will throw you overboard at which point it does not take much to start panicking despite your life jacket.
Manatees are herbivores and they will not attempt to eat you or anything, but they can kill/drown you in self-defense or by accident.
They are faster than you in water as well as more nimble, but they are considered slow when compared to other aquatic creatures.
Humans are much more dangerous for them than they are to a kayaker and the leading cause of manatee deaths is habitat destruction and man-made objects, mostly propeller blades and collisions.
Manatees are curious by nature, peaceful, trusting, and somewhat oblivious to what can hurt them. This makes them precious but also dangerous for kayakers.
How to Kayak Among Them and Is It Safe?
The aforementioned three manatee species inhabit both freshwater and saltwater marshy coastal areas as well as rivers.
They can be found in the Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico, West Africa, and the Amazon. They prey on dozens of different plants and they enjoy their peace.
When humans are kayaking in their immediate vicinity, they are usually unbothered as it is of no interest to them.
Their main natural predators are crocodiles and their instincts tell them to run from them. Humans can tolerate it, which hardly means that there is no responsibility on our end.
It is perfectly safe to kayak around manatees, but only as long as you do it quietly, respectfully, and with minimal disturbance.
Violent paddling, making unnecessary noise, and trying to disrupt the manatees’ day purposefully can only lead to trouble, both with the animal and with the occasional coastal guard or animal life preserver.
Being mindful of the animal’s home means allowing them their natural environment despite you being there. Let them do their usual business and do not approach them, or injuries and death can be the result.
It is important to know that you cannot injure them by accident with the kayak. They are huge and very strong, able to withstand propeller blades.
Do not however ting that this means they do not care about intruders. Far from it.
At their core, manatees are friendly and are not afraid to approach kayakers to see and feel what you are doing.
They could very well approach your boat even if you are in a party of several kayakers. Behave nicely, remain calm, and do not raise your voice or splash around your boat.
It is a magical moment and you should appreciate it.
Do Not Approach Them First
Watching from a distance is what you should always be doing with wildlife, regardless of whether it wants you for dinner or not.
It is a matter of respect and avoiding any fuss. If you want it to be fun while being safe, watch them from afar and take photos.
This is an act of respect for them as beings and equals, as well as of their environment where they feel the safest. Always steer away from them if you realize that they are on course.
Sometimes they will not move even if it means your vessel going directly to them. Therefore, you make the move and ho around, keeping your distance.
Kayaks are great for paddling around and with manatees, but it is not the smartest idea to do it unsupervised and with wild manatees.
Special tours and reservations do exist where you can go to do this.
When kayaking in your own time and by yourself, always make sure to keep away from them and only marvel at them from a distance.
As long as you are not bothering these peaceful animals, they will not bother you. Mutual respect goes a long way in nature.
Meet Maria Alexander, the fearless adventurer steering the ship at KayakPaddling.net. Her mission? To convince you that life’s too short for dry land and that the best stories always start with “So there I was in my kayak…”