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Manatees off Indian Rocks Beach pleasant surprise to vacationing photographer

The wind was quiet. The water was perfectly clear. At 1 p.m. May 10 on Indian Rocks Beach, the sun glittered high in the sky.

As Eric Zahn, owner of Prizm Pro Photography of Oshkosh, Wis., walked along the shore, his Nikon camera swung around his neck.

"It was perfect picture time,'' he said. "I was on vacation, but I had my camera out to try to get some good beach shots.''

He noticed a group of people wading in the water off First Avenue.

"They were all looking down,'' he said. "When I got close, I saw the shadows. The people were with a herd of manatees.''

His heart skipped a beat. He counted 15 of them.

"I went over my mental photographer checklist," he said. "I was thinking shutter speed, composition, being squared off with the light. Then, I was trigger happy because I knew the scene could change at a moment's notice, but they actually stayed around awhile. I ended up taking 235 shots.''

Zahn, 44, is back in Wisconsin after his vacation. We caught up with him by phone, after seeing the photos he posted May 14 on the St. Petersburg Times blog Let's Talk.

"My family, Shirley, my son, Nash, my daughter, Camille, we've been coming to Indian Rocks for 20 years, and we never saw anything like it,'' he said.

Since he posted the photos, he's gotten e-mails and phone calls from friends and strangers.

"Here in Wisconsin, some people have looked at the photos and called to say, 'Oh, so that's what a manatee looks like.' ''

Even though Wisconsin is far from the Gulf of Mexico, people there are concerned, Zahn said.

"Everyone hopes they can cap that well soon and that the impact will be minimal,'' he said.

And the manatees?

"Oh, the manatees. Hopefully, the manatees won't get affected by this,'' he said.

"I had seen them before at Busch Gardens, and I knew they were gentle. But yet when you get a creature in the ocean that is that big and coming that close to you, at first it is unnerving. Then when they brush up against you, you realize that they are as cool as it gets.''

Reach Piper Castillo at pcastillo@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4163.

Manatees off Indian Rocks Beach pleasant surprise to vacationing photographer 05/22/10 [Last modified: Friday, May 21, 2010 6:09pm]

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