These gentle herbivores cruise the Florida coast in search of eelgrass. When the seas grow too cold in winter, they move upstream into the warmer spring-fed rivers north of St Petersburg and into the warm water outflow from power station cooling systems. We look for them in a spring-fed river north from St Petersburg on a cool February day.
British visitor Phil Hadley is treated to a sighting of manatees within minutes of the start of our river journey.
Eye to inverted eye, a manatee investigates an upturned kayaker
A group of manatees checking out our drifting kayaks
Sleeping on the bottom and rising automatically for
air in their sleep, manatees often fall victim to power boats, and
most bear the white scars from slicing cuts of boat props. Here a mother and calf sleep together. (Joel Rogers watches from a distance)
Each white line is a scar from a propeller blade... Forward movement of the boat has etched a series of parallel scars along the length of the manatee's back. More serious is impact from the hull which usually causes fatal internal injuries.
Cartoon graphics on the sea wall of a riverside house show the tables turned, with manatees driving power boats across human swimmers. Sadly the opposite is the case. Even in manatee slow speed zones it is common to see speeding boats.
Greg Stamer relaxes upside down to interact with a curious manatee
Photographers in a tandem find themselves watched from behind.
Swedish kayaker Roland senses movement beneath his hull
Greg Stamer and Kristin Nelson are checked out by a baby manatee
Breaking for lunch on a small sand beach. Photographer Joel Rogers leans against a tree (right)
Roland chases Greg Stamer upstream
Kristin powers her Rumour upstream over crystal clear water
A heron stands on top of a swamp cypress tree. Ubiquitous drapes of Spanish moss adorn the branches which are bare of green leaves for winter.
Nigel reaches down to scratch the back of a young manatee rubbing against the canoe hull
Nigel Foster's "Guide to Sea Kayaking in Southern Florida" (The Globe Pequot Press) explores southern Florida through a series of the best tours and day trips from St Petersburg to the Florida Keys. Along with landing and launching sites, travel details and points of local interest you'll find personal anecdotes and sidebars explaining local wildlife, weather and historic tidbits.