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Haulover Canal Report
(Merritt Island National Refuge)


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Report By:  paddledipper    Date: 4/1/2012 
Rating:Trip Rating     Photos: See 11 photos     Map & Directions: View


An easy dolphin, bird and manatee packed paddle.

My Report:

It was a last minute free day where you throw the kayak in, make sure you have your safety gear and just hope the rest of your stuff is in the bag if you should need it kind of day. How it is that this type of day could turn out so wonderful? Who can predict?


A friend, my 11 year old daughter and I arrived at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge around 10:30AM on Sunday, April 1st and quickly got our 3 solo kayaks in the water. Our goal this day was to see some birds on the island just off from the put in area that is a bird refuge and hope to see a dolphin or two. A few other kayakers were putting in right behind us and we all got a treat right away! Within 10 paddle strokes, a dolphin was swimming around us and it hung out for as many pictures as we wanted to take. We did move on rather quickly due to some fisherman in the same area who we wanted to be respectful to and give a wide berth to. They were kind and patient and seemed to be as excited about the dolphin show as we were.

We easily crossed the channel headed to the first island in our line of vision which my friend calls "Bird Island" and experienced only a light to moderate chop which was an easy paddle with no large wakes from the boats entering Haulover Canal. "Bird Island" was filled with so many different types of birds! I am not very knowledgeable about birds so I don't know the names of all I saw but I did recognize a couple great blue herons, many roseate spoonbills and brown pelicans. There were many more, but I can't identify them so Iím not going to exploit my ignorance. I have to say that seeing the birds was pretty neat but hearing themÖ. well, that was amazing. My friend said, it sounded like we're entering Jurassic Park, and it did! I expected to see a dinosaur step out from the trees at any time.

We paddled around half of the island then headed over to the next island where we pulled our kayaks up, got out, walked around and explored a bit. We looked at the shells, some horseshoe crabs, sat in the cool salt water and had a small bite to eat. I saw one lone blue crab scurrying to get out of my way. We were the only people on this island but there was one kayak fisherman anchored off a bit who said he had caught and released a 35Ē redfish. He seemed pretty excited about that and I can understand why.

We left the peaceful, quiet island and paddled around the back side of ďBird IslandĒ where you could get a closer and better view of the birds. There were several flying with sticks in their beaks working on nests high up in the trees. My daughter and I stopped to play with the comb jellyfish that were dotted all along the way in the shallow, grassy water. These guys donít sting at all and feel just like little slime pods in your hand. The water in the area close to the island was shallow but we only hit bottom hit bottom once on the way out and had to drag our kayaks a few feet to deeper water.

Next up, off to Haulover Canal to look for manatees and dolphins. This time there was no chop at all crossing the channel and it was an even easier paddle than the first crossing. Just before we got to the canal my daughter pointed out a manatee. I didnít see it, but I sure felt it as it swam under my kayak! It felt as though I had floated over a moving log. Let me tell you this juvenile manatee was looking for some loviní. It swam next to my kayak, put itís snout out of the water looking at me, stuck itís flippers out of the water next to the kayak and rolled over so itís stomach was exposed like a dog wanting itís belly rubbed! Iím not sure if itís ok to pet a manatee in the wild but I could not tell this guy no. I was surprised to feel his stomach skin was rough and felt very
similar to wet canvas. His back was slimy from a build up of algae and it had a few scars from boat propellers. Sigh, so sweet and so sad too. He visited around us a long while letting me rub him explore him up close then it swam over to my friend who got a several good rubs in before it lost interest in us. My daughter kept her distance afraid it might flip her kayak over. It certainly could have, but in the worst caseÖ we would have been wetter than we already were. It moved on and we did too. One of the greatest experiences ever!

We encountered a few big boats as we entered the canal but they heeded the signs and slowed their speed so we encountered no significant wake. As we passed the put-in a couple getting out of a tandem said there were ďhundredsĒ of manatees at the boat launch so, yepÖ off we went! We passed a small cove on the way where a single dolphin was frolicking and appeared to be rounding up a snack which was pretty entertaining. The boat launch is less than half a mile up the canal on the right and it did not disappoint! The manatee backs looked like large stepping stones dotted across the water. Of course there wasnít anywhere near a hundred but in that small cove area we could count 20-23 visible backs. All the backs had scars from propellers which I find so sad. They really are gentle giants! There were adults with a baby, single manatees and a glimpse of a tail or snout everywhere you looked. None of these guys were as friendly as the fella we encountered before we entered the canal which caused us to wonder if he may have gotten separated from his mother and was looking for her. My kayak is large and grey just like a manatee. Iíd of taken him home if I could! We paddled and floated around this area about 20 minutes total and then headed back out to the canal to load up and return home.

That same lone dolphin was circling up food in his cove on our way back so we stopped to watch a while and to take a few photos.

My photos arenít spectacular but they are all weíve got. My sweet friend deposited (accidently) her 2 month old phone, which takes great pictures, in the waters around our secluded island. Although she did retrieve it, she was unable to use it for the rest of the trip. I sure hope that bag of rice trick works for salt water too.

Total we paddled only 4.06 miles over a period of about 4 hours. There was no cost to enter the refuge and no cost to park. The cost of this day was simply a few gallons of gas to get us there. We all agreed that seeing the manatee so close and so friendly was the highlight of the trip and worth every drop of the high priced gasoline it took to get us there!

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Location Data:

Difficulty: Easy
Location Type: Saltwater
Boat Type: Kayak
Distance (miles): 4
Fees/Costs $: 0


Photos from Merritt Island National Refuge:    (Click image to view full size)

Empty Island stop No Comm
Empty Island stop

Stopped here to explore a while.

Headed to the Island No Comm
Headed to the Island
"Bird Island&qu No Comm
"Bird Island&qu
More Birds No Comm
More Birds

See the heron on the shore?

Sharing the Canal No Comm
Sharing the Canal
A visitor! No Comm
A visitor!
Comb Jellyfish No Comm
Comb Jellyfish
Curious Fella No Comm
Curious Fella
Brown Pelican No Comm
Brown Pelican
Manatee Tail! No Comm
Manatee Tail!
Dolphin Party of One No Comm
Dolphin Party of One


Special Interests and Comments:

Special Interestshttp://www.fws.gov/merrittisland/



Post Date: 4/2/2012

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