(Read the rest of this series here, if you want.)
OK, so my manatee hunt hit a pretty big snag right from the start. Mainly that I had no idea where to find a manatee. I was pretty sure that they were mostly aquatic, but that was about all I had to go off of. Having no place to start did nothing to damper my gusto, though, so when I hopped off the plane I hit the ground of the Tampa International Airport running. I pounded a few drinks in an airport bar, retrieved the harpoon from my checked luggage, and took my rental car to the first body of water I could find. Luckily, since the majority of Florida sits approximately nine feet below sea level, this did not take long.
When I got to the beach I threw myself headfirst into the water. After a couple hours of splashing around fully clothed and shouting, I had to admit that my technique wasn’t working. Not only was I not spotting any manatees, but I had started to draw too much attention from people who were probably wondering why a full-grown man in jeans was waving a harpoon next to their swimming children.
Calm down, you prudes.
As I drove away, I decided to re-think my strategy. Maybe the first step would have to be figuring out where the hell these manatees live instead of just attacking bodies of water until I found one. It was time to do some reconnaissance.
And so, to that end, I wound up at the Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa. I did find myself in a bit of a kerfuffle before I even got into the zoo, but I finally paid the stupid admission charge when the gate attendants and managers made it clear that they did not accept my Double Thumb ID or “sheer badassery” as payment. After that I made my way around the zoo in search of the aquatic section.
I passed several pretty kick ass predator types and spent some time imagining the carnage they would cause if I could find a way to let them out of their cage. For instance, you see this bastard?
That’s a sloth bear. They’re from Asia or some shit. You ever seen the huge ass claws on a sloth? Now imagine them strapped to four bear limbs. Yeah. That’s a sloth bear. They’re super aggressive too, often attacking people just for the hell of it and ripping them apart. Maybe they get their name because can be lazy like sloths too, but I doubt it. This particular sloth bear looked active and hungry.
But I had to move on. My mission here was manatees. As luck would have it, I reached the manatee pools just in time to mingle in with a tour group. The lady jabbering away at the front of the group was a serious looking Hispanic chick wearing a shirt with the zoo’s logo on it. From where I stood her name tag was too far away to read. Plus, it was right next to her boobs so I got distracted anyway.
After a minute of staring, I realized that she was, in fact, talking about manatees. She seemed to know her shit, too and enthusiastically gestured as she told the group all about the different types of lettuce they feed the manatees.
Holy shit, tell me more!
I raised my hand.
Zoo lady blinked at me, then said, “Yes?”
I dropped my hand. “Yeah, I got a question. What are your qualifications, exactly? How do you know so much ’bout manatees?”
She bristled slightly, yet still remained professional. “My name is Maria Loveland. I’m a rescue coordinator with the Fish and Wildlife Conservation. I have a master’s degree in zoology. I’ve worked within the Florida aquatic community for six years professionally, not counting my volunteer time before that. I have personally been part of the rescue team for half of the manatees you see here at this zoo. I’ve studied them for years, as well as helming innumerable necropsies to come to a full understanding about the anatomy of these creatures.”
I nodded. “Right, cool, sure. So where do manatees live? Are they all in zoos or what?”
She sighed. “No, sir, they don’t all live in zoos. Their natural habitat is warm coastal waters or rivers.”
“So how many manatees are observed in the wild?”
“As of the latest count there are estimated to be just over 6,000 manatees around Florida’s waters.”
“OK, but I mean how many of them are being observed like, right now? Do you have people keeping track of all the manatees?”
“No, we don’t. There are still a little too many for us to feasibly track them all. Fortunately. We do keep an eye on certain locations where the animals are known to congregate.”
“Right, cool. So where would there be some manatees that, uh, no one is watching? Like, do they have a fuck cove where you guys kinda turn a blind eye?”
Yeeeaahhh, right in there.
She stared at me. “What exactly are you looking for, sir? If you want to view the manatees you can do so here at the zoo. If you want to see them in their natural habitat you can sign up for one of our tours-”
“Nah, there’s too many people here. On the tours too. I want to look at the manatees in private, you know? Not have the experience ruined by a bunch of noisy kids and prying eyes.”
“Yeah, of lookin’ at the manatees. That’s all I’m gonna do. Just look. I won’t touch them at all. I just don’t want anyone else around to, uh, detract from the nature and junk.”
Her eyes narrowed. “What exactly are you planning on doing with the manatees, sir?”
I held up a hand. “Whoa, lady, chill. You’re lookin’ at me like I’m gonna do some weird sexual shit to them. Trust me, that ain’t the case. If I wanted to jack off to a bunch of manatees I’d just go to your family reunion. Ohhhhhhh!” I turned to the eight year old boy beside me. “High five me, you little shit.”
He hesitantly tapped my palm before his mom managed to scoop him off the ground and pull him away.
Maria said, “Sir, I’m going to ask you to leave the tour group now.”
Naturally, I protested. Loudly, at length, and complete with a multitude of violent hand gestures. Nobody tells Chris Derricks where to go! Nobody, that is, except for the platoon of security guards who showed up once Maria started shouting for them. I kicked and flailed as they grabbed hold of me, but it didn’t do any good. It turns out that people who daily face the possibility of fending off rampaging gorilla outbreaks are pretty damn strong.
Like this, probably.
They deposited me in a heap on the gravel outside the zoo’s grounds and told me I had exactly four minutes before the police showed up. After three and a half minutes of shouting insults so forceful I could actually see them move through the air, I decided to leave of my own accord.
And so I sulked away, still no closer to my prize. I probably needed to start re-rethinking my strategy. Instead I just fantasized about that sloth bear tearing all the zoo employees to shreds.
Join me next time when I finally figure out how I’m going to capture a goddamn manatee.