Surprise Scuba Dive With Manatees at Boneyard, Venice Beach, Florida

by Deb Davis
(Largo, Florida)

Recently I went to Venice Beach, Florida to dive for sharks teeth.

I don’t claim to be an expert diver. I started diving a little over a year and a half ago and although I have logged well over 50 dives I still have much to learn.

My dive buddy was certified at the same time as me but has fewer dives under his belt - or weight belt in this case.

This was my first dive not only using a dive computer, I’ve always preferred gauges and tables, but I was also attempting to teach myself how to use a compass. Well, the self-taught student certainly has a fool for a teacher.

We started out in 30 feet of water. As we drifted along I felt I was in full control of my navigational skills. I was positive we were heading south of our boat and was thrilled with my find of tiny sharp toothed treasures.

About 25 minutes into the dive I was still trying to figure out how to read the computer. I felt I must be reading it incorrectly since the depth numbers were getting smaller. I took my partners gauge to see what depth we were at and low and behold his gauge read exactly as my computer. We were in 8 feet of water.

Rather than heading south we had been heading east towards the beach. So much for my navigational skills. With wounded ego I indicated to my friend that we needed to head back in the opposite direction.

As we began to swim back the way we came and the gauge was now registering nine feet I noticed a large shadow in the distance. If you have never dove off of Venice Beach let me explain what visibility is like on a good day.

The water is cloudy and if you are lucky you can get about 10 feet of visibility. Well this was a good day and approximately 10 feet ahead something massive was slowly headed straight towards me.

My dive partners noticed the distant shadow a few seconds after I did and grabbed my arm in fear. I motioned for him to swim to our left to take us out of direct line of whatever was heading our way. The mass turned and continued to head towards us narrowing the gap between it and us.

Then the UUO (unidentifiable underwater object) became visible. Three manatees were swimming side by side. They came right up to us and began swimming circles around us. It was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever witnessed.

I’ve seen manatees many times from the top of the water looking down but to swim right next to them was surreal. Their massive size was a bit frightening. To think they could roll over and squash me like a bug was a bit intimidating.

Although they moved with much grace, I knew that one accidental bump with their enormous tail could result in my injury if it came in contact with me. But their curiosity was as great as mine and they continuously swam in circles around us.

I became so amused I was struck with laughter. It was a good thing we were only in nine feet of water because I just had to ascend in order to laugh. As my dive partner and I broke the surface we gave the OK signal to the boat about thirty yards away. We howled with delight.

After composing ourselves we descended once again only to realize our three friends were still with us. We watched a few more moments then headed back to our boat. We couldn’t wait to relay our experience with the captain and other divers.

To our surprise the crew knew we had this awesome experience. The captain said that when he saw us first break the surface in the distance and heard us laugh he thought we were hilarious because we realized we had swam in the wrong direction and almost beached ourselves. But then he saw the three manatees break the surface behind us where they floated until we went back under the water.

My friend and I didn’t even know the manatees were behind us on top of the water.

I’ve always said that even my worst dive was a good dive. I love diving and the wonders the sea has to offer but this is one dive I will remember forever and I will cherish the memory of the day the manatee played.

I am also going to sign up for a navigational course ASAP.

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