On my birthday eve (10/10/12), for the first time since our May 19 snorkel at Madison Blue Spring, I dove into a NEW first magnitude spring! The summer brought many ocean adventures in the Gulf of Mexico, Bahamas, and back home in Massachusetts, and since August I have been either diving in new non-first magnitude springs or continuing to explore and photograph repeat springs. There's always something new to see, so this could keep me busy for years, but swimming in a new spring is always exciting. Of the fifteen or so first magnitude springs remaining on my short list, Weeki Wachee was on the "this will be hard to dive" list along with several other springs on private property / accesible only by boat. Anyway, Weeki Wachee Spring, recently designated as a state park, is about 2 hours southwest of Gainesville and while you can swim in a tiny, shallow section of the spring basin off to the side, diving in the main mermaid basin is restricted to dive shops and organizations with special permission. Thankfully, Wednesday was my lucky day as NASE had a permit to dive in the main basin to shoot more footage for their training videos. We previously shot at a pool in Ocala, but for the open water portion of the shooting, why not swim where the mermaids swim? I certainly wasn't going to question that decision :)
We were greeted not only by Allen, the mermaid trainer and world-record holder for the longest continuous ocean dive, but also by a whole slew of wild peacocks! There were several roaming around the park and hanging out where you least expected. Even after a whole day of seeing them everywhere, I was still surprised every time one wandered by and checked out our dive gear...
We completed 3 dives in the brilliant crystal clear water throughout the day to get footage for the NASE training video. Every hour or two, we took a break so that the mermaids could perform their shows for park visitors. And during our last break we took a stroll over to the underwater auditorium and watched a bit of the show!
|Demonstrating sharing air.|
|Scott and I swimming through the main basin.|
According to Allen, the mermaid shows take place all year long. He requires that all mermaids are SCUBA certified and trains those that are not certified before they start doing shows at Weeki Wachee - this is important for buoyancy control and learning to breathe off of the hoses scattered throughout the basin, which he likens to breathing off a free-flowing second stage. This is not an easy feat, especially at high pressure. There are about 15 mermaids and there are usually 3 shows per day, sometimes more. Lightning is the only thing that will cancel a show, and Halloween is one of their biggest days... they even have an 11pm show! Below are views of their stage from the underwater auditorium. When we first arrived, there were sunfish and mullet swimming throughout the basin, reminding us that despite the windows and mystical mermaids, it is still a natural spring:
|A beautiful show of air bubbles during the mermaid show :)|
|Tails and sequins?! Not your typical diving locker room.|
|This is the sign above the hallway going down into the underwater auditorium. Love it!!|