I once got the chance to swim with manatees. There was a professor at college that was doing research on them in Florida. We were given plastic boards with manatee shapes and parts and we were supposed to mark where we saw scars and injuries from boats. Some of them had devastating cuts from being hit by boats and propellers ripping across their backs. They are shallow swimmers. Their lungs are designed that way. They spend most of their time feeding on vegetation at the surface. The manatees were curious about us. We had dive flags and they would take their little short flippers and play with the flags, mouthing them with their upper lips which are split down the middle. They were not afraid and swam right up to examine us in our neoprene wetsuits, a manatee of a different color, I imagined they were thinking. Even the fish thought we were manatees. The fish were protected there and were used to using the manatees as moving shade. They followed underneath them. When you swam, it wasn’t long before you had a posse of fish swimming underneath you. It was funny because when you stopped and turned around, they would stop and hover in the water, all of them looking at you with their sunny side up eyes. The adult manatees took naps by laying on the ground. They could stay there for 10-15 minutes at a time looking like mossy gray mounds because they swim so slow that algae can actually grow on their backs. The young manatee in this picture was left alone while the mother slept. It decided that I was the next best thing because it swam over to me then underneath me and pushed me up to the surface so that I was literally laying on its back. We were supposed to touch them and I was literally almost riding one, by its choice, not mine. I lay very still and the baby stayed there for what seemed an eternity. Its back was rough and bumpy with little hairs that I hadn’t noticed before. For just a short while, I became a manatee mother. I scratched its back gently feeling so calm and at peace but exhilarated in the same moment. I don’t know how long the actual moment lasted but for me it has lasted my entire lifetime.