As the owner of an airboat tour company, Mandy Egner has had her fair share of close encounters with sea creatures — both small and large. But during a snorkeling excursion in Crystal River over the weekend, the Florida woman said she had a "once in a lifetime experience" she'll never forget.
While swimming amongst a sea of manatees with her cousin on Friday, Egner was approached by a curious, slow-moving sea cow.
"She approached us and was very interested. We would back up to give her space and she would come right back to us," Egner, of Beverly Hills, explained to Fox News on Monday. "When she approached me ... I kept my hands up to let her check me out on her terms."
Egner said she was careful to follow the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's (FWC) viewing guidelines, which encourage swimmers to never touch or pursue manatees which are protected under federal law.
"If the site you visit allows in-water activities near manatees, use snorkel gear and float at the surface of the water to passively observe manatees," the FWC states on its website.
In order to comply with these rules, Egner said she kept her hands up and let the manatee come to her. After about 20 minutes, the manatee approached and "hugged" Egner before flipping her out of the water.
"It was cool when she hugged me but this was just amazing. I never thought I would be flipped out of the water by the manatee," she said.
The Florida woman couldn't believe what was happening.
"It was definitely an unforgettable experience," Egner recalled, adding that she's never encountered an interaction quite like this.
Egner admitted she was slightly uneasy — given the manatee's size.
"At one point we were in about five feet of water and as she was rolling I could feel myself being taken under. I might have had a moment of nerves then but remembered she is just a gentle giant with no bad intentions," Egner said.
The wild interaction was captured by an underwater camera. Egner posted the footage on her Facebook page Friday afternoon, receiving several comments from surprised locals.
"What an experience," one Facebook user commented.
"That is one heck of an experience! Glad you got manatee hugs!!!" another exclaimed.
"That is so awesome," a third added.