florida keys manatee

American Crocodiles and Florida Keys Manatees in the Everglades

Flamingos Everglade National Park Canoes 300x200

Everglades National Park at Flamingo

People will tell you that there are no crocodiles that live in the wild in the continental United States but “people be wrong.” How do I know this? Because we visited several more national parks in Florida yesterday, and not only did I learn about the distinctions between alligators vs. crocodiles, but I actually spotted a crocodile swimming in the canal in front of the Marina store at the Flamingo Visitor Center in Everglades National Park.

In my excitement to capture him on film, I ran around the entire cement rectangle. When I first noticed the crocodile, he was swimming away from the dock in front of the Marina store where I was standing with camera in hand and clutching a cheap-ass pink Everglades T-shirt made in Haiti. I figured that if I could get to the other side of the marina before he did, I could shoot a great photo of his entire silvery body and beautiful whopping big head. Panting, I scampered down the ramp and gingerly tiptoed out on the dock.

Crocodiles live in ocean water. Flamingo, Florida, is about the northern-most point in the United States where a crocodile will venture because that’s where the salt water meets fresh water. You can easily tell the difference between an alligator and crocodile because a crocodile’s teeth hang out and are bared, whereas an alligator keeps her teeth neatly tucked inside her lips. Crocodiles are also more gray with a slight hint of green and alligators are black or dark gray. But it’s the teeth that easily differentiate.

The crocodile was mesmerizing. Big ol’ eyes staring. Staring at me. Uh-oh, he saw me. I temporarily forgot that I was standing on the dock with my camera in hand, switched to the On position, ready to shoot. The minute I raised my camera to my eye, the crocodile slipped under the brackish water. I captured a a sinking silver streak.


Elizabeth Weintraub’s Manatee Made in China

All was not lost at the Flamingo Visitor Center. On the other side, where the boats are put into the water, some guy pulling up his canoe looked at us and asked: What does a manatee look like? Here, I had completely written off getting to see a Florida Keys manatee in the wild. I was so certain we would not see a manatee that I bought a small plastic manatee made in China at the national park at Biscayne Bay just so I could take a picture of it. See, the thing is if you spot a manatee in the Everglades, you most likely only see a snout sticking up through the water and, from a distance, it can look like a a coconut. Receiving an opportunity to actually see a manatee up close was very unlikely.

But there she was. Right next to the dock. Poking that cute little nose up through the filthy water littered with trash and cigarette butts. My very own Florida Keys manatee. She said: Hi, do you have any Grey Poupon? They will eat small fish but these mammals are primarily vegetarians.

Florida Keys Manatee

Florida Keys Manatee at Flamingo Visitor Center

Manatees are protected in Florida. They are endangered. Careless boaters run over them and leave big gashes on their backs. Probably the single biggest issue that causes a reduction in the number of manatees in Florida is loss of habitat. They can grow to 800 to 1200 pounds. Their closest relative is the elephant, and they are so danged sweet-looking and inquisitive that you can’t help but want to pet them.

A skinny little boy who didn’t quite reach my waist, bouncing a head of soft black curls, said he wanted to jump into the water and hug the manatee. When I asked if he could swim and he shook his head No, his sister volunteered to help him swim — that’s how badly these kids hanging out at the dock wanted to play with a Florida Keys manatee. The thought crossed my mind that I could jump in the water myself, but without any food to entice the mammal, I suspected the manatee would swim away.

See, I may have the instincts of a child at times, but I possess at least one thing that children do not. Foresight.

Photos: Elizabeth Weintraub, Everglades National Park at Flamingo

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