It’s a typical 21st century occurrence when a large group of people spontaneously converge with cellphones held aloft to capture something for posterity, or at least for a new Instagram post. Such was the case when I looked up from my latest book to discover fifty people walking along the beach, all pointing their cellphones at the ocean’s edge. Naturally, I also reached into my beach bag, grabbed my cell, and sprinted over.
“Dolphin?” I inquired, hoping to stumble upon a pod of my favorite sea creatures.
It reminded me of a time I spontaneously swam with a pod of dolphins shortly after leading my first Soaringwords team-building experience for 400 engineers at Verizon. (You can read more about this story here).
The answer shocked me: “It’s a manatee!”
Sure enough, an eight-foot hunk of mammal was floating through the turquoise water, oblivious to its growing fan base along the shore.
My only encounter with a manatee was a stuffed animal that my brother, Gary, had bought for my son, his beloved nephew, shortly after he was born.
“Cute,” I said. “But, what is it?”
“It’s a manatee,” Gary replied.
“What are those indentations on its back?” I pointed to the striations marked on the back of the stuffed manatee.
Always rooting for the underdog, or in this case, under-manatee, Gary explained how boat propellers were endangering manatees’ lives.
“The profits from the purchase of the stuffed animals support efforts to protect manatees,” he said.
Thirty-three years later, face to face with a real deal. It was mesmerizing and it made me feel close to my brother, who was a transplanted northerner who loved living in Florida. After walking about half a mile, I decided to return to my book.
Later that night, my husband and I were walking along the river looking at boats when I pointed out a manatee awareness sign. We hadn’t seen it before that day. We took a few steps closer to the water’s edge and gasped.
“Jacob, look!” and there in front of us were two hulking manatees silently floating under the surface.
After consulting Google, I discovered that the local Miami population swells between December through February. I’m looking forward to having these manatee neighbors for the next month!