Living in Southern California, the ocean already plays a prominent role in my family’s activities, whether it’s boogie boarding, paddle boarding, kayaking, or just going to the beach. But what other activities can an animal-loving family do that combines their love of water with their love of animals? Here are some of my favorite aquatic activities that include unique animal encounters. These amazing animal experiences for perfect adults and kids alike.
Swim with Manatees
Manatee encounters allow you to swim alongside these gentle giants in their natural environment. Tours take you by boat to manatee hotspots and then let you snorkel and swim around them. Although you are allowed to touch them with one hand, you are not allowed to hold them or ride them. Of course, being curious creatures, don’t be surprised if a manatee decides to touch you! I did the manatee encounter as a vet student years ago and it remains one of my all-time favorite memories. If you are in Florida and want to find out more, go to: www.crystalriverdivers.com
Have you ever wanted to meet a dolphin? Dolphin Quest gives people the opportunity to learn about dolphins up close and personal. Founded in 1984 by veterinarians Dr. Jay Sweeney and Dr. Rae Stone, Dolphin Quest was created to educate people about these amazing animals in order to inspire dedication to marine conservation. They accomplish these goals with unique interactive educational programs. Dolphin Quest also makes significant contributions to dolphin research and marine medicine. Every year, biologists, veterinary students, and veterinarians from around the world visit their centers to learn more about these incredible marine mammals and to conduct scientific studies designed to improve their health. To find out more about Dolphin Quest Oahu go to: www.dolphinquest.com
Watch Turtles Hatch
Have you ever seen a baby sea turtle hatch and make its way to the ocean? Imagine seeing a thousand little turtle hatchlings crawling towards the water’s edge and then swimming away. Public hatchling releases are a great way for kids to witness this incredible natural spectacle. Padre Island National Seashore incubation facility on Padre Island protects and cares for all the turtle eggs found on the island and all along the Texas coast. Several times a year they invite the public to witness the release of their hatchlings. These events are free of charge and attract thousands of visitors each year. To find out about seeing a turtle hatching, go to: https://www.nps.gov/pais/learn/nature/hatchlingreleases.htm
Help with Sea Turtle Rescue
Ever wonder where to take a sick or injured sea turtle? The Turtle Hospital is a non-profit rehabilitation center in the in the Florida Keys that cares for sick or injured turtles. They rescue, rehabilitate and have successfully released over 1,500 turtles since its founding in 1986. Besides rescuing sea turtles, Turtle Hospital has worked with the University of Florida and University of Georgia College of Vet Medicine to study the causes of fibropapilloma, a deadly viral tumor affecting sea turtles across the globe. In addition to research, they have worked tirelessly to educate people about turtle conservation and have advocated legislation to make our beaches and water cleaner. If you would like to see them care for a turtle, they give tours and are always in need of volunteers.
Swim with Leopard Sharks
Although the idea of swimming with sharks may seem like a bad idea, swimming with La Jolla’s leopard sharks is a memorable animal encounter worth experiencing. Every summer, thousands of leopard sharks migrate to the warmer shallow waters off La Jolla Shores to mate. Leopard sharks are easy to “spot” with their dark brown spots against silvery grey background that resemble a leopard print. During the peak, around August and September, you can just wade out and see sharks swimming around you. Just remember to be respectful and keep your distance as leopard sharks are shy and wary of people.