Stories of a Airboat Guide
A New Chapter in My Life
Manatees, The Ultimate Hippies
By: Glenn Wilsey, Sr.
I grew up on the water. My whole life to this point was spent in the Everglades of South Florida, and the Keys.
I spent many hours in the swamps and woodland hammocks in the Everglades, and became enamored with the alligators that frequented those areas. My parents, along with other people in our small town, knew of my love for animals and reptiles. When I first started writing, my early stories were about alligators and their habits. One story led to another, and before you knew it, I had written about almost all of the animals in the Everglades area!
My parents owned a marina in Key Largo, so fishing and diving was a big part of my life. In the summer, the manatees would hang out in our marina. There were a few injured manatees that would come and stay in our lagoon to rest. I used to feed them left-over scraps of vegetables from some of the local restaurants in the area. (Note: that was pre-1970, and back then the laws on how people could conduct themselves around manatees were a little sketchy.) I loved the these gentle giants, and it broke my heart to see them all cut up and injured. I did whatever I had to do to help them. It may have not been a lot but it was something.
If you would have told me back then that I would be a Captain/tour guide at River Ventures in Crystal River, FL and taking people out to learn about these amazing animals, I wouldnt have believed it.
In 1998, I started writing a web column. While on a Manatee tour, someone said:" Capt. Glenn, I enjoyed the manatee story you wrote." I looked at her with a very puzzled look and said "Uh... its dumb of me to say this but I dont remember writing a Manatee story." She laughed as if to believe I was joking. I told her I would check and get back with her on facebook. Over the years, I have written over 80 stories for my web column. I went back to 2001 and there it was at aaof.us/09-01. I went to facebook and let her know I checked and found it. She said she still didnt believe I forgot that I wrote it, but thanked me for my honesty. I write from my heart, so my mind may forget but the heart always remembers.
Leaving the Everglades was not an easy decision. I spent most of my life playing with some of the most dangerous animals in Florida. Friends and family for many years have asked me if I would back away from the animals I lived and worked with. "Glenn, you are in your 50s now, and its only a matter of time before something bad is going to happen," they said.
After leaving the Seminole Tribe, I had a little time to sit back and reflect on my life. After counting all the bites from the different animals and reptiles, it was obvious to me. I still have all of my body parts and Im not maimed in anyway. ( I have some friends in the business that werent so lucky.) I truly look up to these friends and all I have is some cool scars to talk about.
When I left the Everglades region of Florida, I thought it would be easy to just start over. Shortly after moving to west-central Florida, I was not sure that I had made the right decision. I wanted to start over and start offering fishing charters or airboat charters. In the Everglades, I didnt need a Captain's license to drive an airboat. I soon realized without the license I was dead in the water, so to speak. Four weeks after arriving, I contacted Adams Marine seminars and set a date to attend school.
At 54 years old I thought my school days were over. and was a little worried about passing. I can tell you it was one very hard class but I pushed hard to make it. I earned my 6-pack Captains' license, then was ready for my next class, and earned my Master Captains license. The teachers at Adams Marine School were the best and worked one-on-one with me, to insure I would learn and remember everything they taught me.
I had my Captains license and was ready to go work as a Charter fishing guide.
Then out of know where, the gulf oil spill shut down tourism here on the west coast of Florida. I did file a claim with BP ( British Petroleum Co.) and was denied any compensation. The results of the denial, is why I feel I will not by anything made, built or written by the British. My claim was very small and only added up to all the savings that I had for a rainy day or an oily day in this case. I told them the truth and look what the truth got me. I know people that didnt tell the truth and raked in a bundle of money from BP. Even though the truth didnt work for me with BP, I will still always tell the truth, its the right thing to do...OOPS....back to my story...
A NEW CHAPTER
I was desperate, devastated and was running out of money fast. A friend told me that there was a manatee tour company looking for a captain. I rushed over to River Ventures to find out more, not sure what to expect. I went in and asked for an application and met Chris and Sandra the owners. Chris asked me for my resume and I handed him a very short version of my resume. As he read it, he would look up now and then, as if to think, is this guy for real? There was one moment where I thought that he might have thought that I padded my resume to make it look better. He said he liked what he saw and we sat down to talk. As we talked over the resume, I could see that he now new the short resume was the real thing. I went into the shop thinking that this manatee tour was just riding tourists around pointing out manatees in the water and talking about them. Chris said that my job was captain, but he also expects his captains to be in the water first. He had no idea that I was thinking this was icing on the cake. I was thinking: "Wow captain and tour guide, thats all me!" He said he had other captains to check and would get back with me. On the way out the door he stopped me and asked if I knew how to film under water, I told him to wait a moment.
I went to my car and got my video Come Tour the Everglades With GATORMAN, and handed it to him. I said." watch a little of this video and you will see that yes" I can video underwater. "
I went home and about 1 hour later I received a call from Chris. He asked me if I could join him on a tour the next day. After that tour, he was sure I was the one he wanted. Its easy to find a captain, but hard to find a captain/tour guide. All Chris had to do was fine-tune me and I was on my way.
Manatees are an endangered species and are covered under the marine animal protection act. There is nowhere in the world that a person can touch an endangered species. Here in Citrus County, it is the only place that a human can touch this enchanting and curious creature. This is a privilege that comes with a lot of rules to protect the manatee from harm.
There are 8 main rules (with many other small but important rules) when it comes to a manatee interaction. There are also my rules and my rules must also be followed/
#1- Do not enter a Manatee sanctuary. The area will be roped off, or there may be buoys blocking a large area.
#2- Do not disturb resting or sleeping Manatees. If a manatee is on the bottom and not moving you can assume the manatee is sleeping or resting. They have to come up for air and it is unlawful to interfere with them at that moment. They are sleep-walking for air.
#3- Do not pursue or chase manatees. If the manatee is swimming away and you are following, that is chasing a manatee.
#4- Do not feed or give manatees water.
#5- Do not grab, poke or prod a manatee with anything, not even with your hands or feet.
#6- Do not separate a calf from its mother.
#7- Do not single out, surround, or separate the manatee from the pod.
#8- You may only touch a manatee with one hand. I advise people to put one hand on themselves, and then you have a free hand to touch the manatee.
For most of you, these are things you know not to do. These rules are in place, as there are people out there who dont adhere to the rules, and that is unlawful. (My next story will cover some of the not-so-smart things people do around and to the manatees.)
One word comes to mind: respect. People need to respect the captain, the rules and the guidelines set by the Fish and Game Commission. It's as simple as that.
Anyone that has been on one of my manatee tours will tell you that I am one of the strictest tour captains on Kings Bay. However, they will also tell you that I am one of the fairest, as when people on my boat follow directions, they will have a great time and perhaps have one of the most memorable experiences of their lives.
I advise everyone to slowly get in the water and its OK to slowly swim in the direction of the manatee. When you get close enough to see the manatee stop and watch what the manatee does. If the manatee chooses to come close to you, then it is OK to reach out with one hand and rub or scratch (scratch lightly with the back of your finger nails) the manatee. If the manatee likes it then they will come closer. If the manatee doses not like it, then it will merely move away. At that point, you may just watch him, but do not swim after him.
I tell everyone if you wouldnt like it done to you, then dont do it to the manatee. Dont touch their face and dont grab their flippers.
Dont push down on the manatees back. The animal will feel like it is being held down if everyone puts his or hands on him at once. Just like us, the manatee breathes air and will fight its way to the top of the water to get a breath.
That brings up another point. If you make the manatee mad, he or she will turn and defend itself. I tell everyone if you make a manatee mad, you will have about 2,000 pounds of animal defending itself. Then I ask, "Does anyone know how the manatee defends itself?" I hear answers such as; "the manatee will slap you with its tail, or the manatee will ram you like a dolphin." All that does sound logical, but the manatee is the ultimate Hippy and if you make the manatee mad he will just leave! All the manatee will hurt is your feelings as he or she leaves.
Here is an interesting fact: a female manatee has mammary glands at the bottom back of her flippers. Do not touch a manatee male or female, under or close to the flippers.
If the manatee rolls over, its OK to rub the manatees belly. Just like any other living creatures, a manatee has a belly button, a reproductive pouch and an exit for what the manatee eats. Do not rub on these areas.
I let everyone know not to be surprised if the manatee starts nibbling (gumming) on you, or if the manatee wraps his or her flippers around you and hangs on to you. They are giant but gentle, loving and caring creatures and 1 out of 3 of them will want to come and look at you or even play with you.
Its amazing how an animal that humans hunted nearly to extinction has forgiven us and wants to be friends with us.
This where I am going to end my story for now. I thank all of you that have been faithful readers and have followed my stories from the beginning. In my new travels and journeys, you can be sure I have lots more stories to share.
Stop in and see me in the Crystal River, at, River Ventures Manatee Eco-tours in beautiful Crystal River, FL. 352-564-8687 you won't be sorry.
Next story: Why the manatees were put on the endangered species list.
The Native Americans hunted manatees since who knows when, but somehow never over hunted them.
In the early 1900s and during the Great depression, humans hunted the manatee to near extinction as a food source. 1 manatee could feed a small village or town. After World War 2 the economy got better and humans stopped hunting manatees. By 1950 there were less than 600 manatees left. For the next 22 years or so the birth rate was good but the survival rate was very bad. Fast moving boats were now killing manatees at an alarming rate.
A manatee can swim about 25 miles an hour but getting to that speed takes a moment or two. The manatee hears the boat coming and at the second tries to get out of the way. The manatee has to kick its massive tail fin 3 or 4 times before there is enough thrust to propel him forward to get out of the way. By then the front of the boat plows into the manatee and because the boat is going fast the propeller hits the manatee also.
In 1972 Jock Cousteau came to kings bay in crystal river Florida and fell in love with this wonderful creature. He started a crusade to save the manatee. The rules he helped enact saved the manatee from extinction. The one rule that was put in place that did the most good was manatee slow zones. Where ever the manatee frequented the most, is where manatee slow zones were created.
I do hope that you have enjoyed my story this month. I know there was a long time since I wrote a new story for you. We apologize for making you all wait so long, but as much as we love bringing you this great website, real life sometimes happens. I will do my best to write new stories on a regular basis like I used to, as much as possible, and any story suggestions are greatly appreciated.
Glenn W. Wilsey
My stories may not be reused in any way without my permission. If you are a teacher or a student and you need my story or any part of it to help you with a class or a better grade, just e-mail me (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I will gladly give you permission to use the story. Other requests will be considered on a case by case basis.