Florida’s rubbery, slow-moving sea cows, are beloved by all who are fortunate enough to meet them. Manatees roam the waters of Florida from April through October -- but when things get a bit chilly, they head to places like freshwater Florida Springs, where the temperatures remain constant throughout the year.
Ready to see some Manatees? Here’s how to see these gentle giants -- and even swim with them. Just remember to mind your manatee manners.
WEST VOLUSIA COUNTY: Blue Spring State Park is home to a first-magnitude spring that constantly outputs 72-degree spring water all year round. Because of that feature, it has become one of the largest winter gathering sites for manatees in Florida. From the Blue Spring’s observation boardwalk, which stretches 1/3 of a mile from the St. Johns River to the springhead, visitors are able to view manatees in the crystal-clear spring water from above without disturbing them. The boardwalk also provides a wonderful opportunity to learn more about the manatee’s natural habitat and Florida’s ecosystem. Visitors can see manatees socializing and mothers nursing their small calves without influencing the manatees’ natural behavior or bothering them. The park is also an ideal location to release manatees back into the wild after they have been rehabilitated from sickness or injury. Because manatees can easily be monitored at the spring and the surrounding waters, researchers can make sure they adapt to life back in the wild.
FORT MYERS: Manatee Park, a Lee County Park located in Fort Myers is among the premier locations to spot manatees during the winter months. Manatees visit the park in search of warm water during the cooler days in winter when the temperature in the Gulf of Mexico is below 68° F (20° C). The warm water in the Manatee Park canal comes from the Florida Power and Light Power Plant across the street and is created as a byproduct of cooling off their equipment. The best months for manatee watching are December - March. This is when manatees are more likely to be seen at Manatee Park, when the temperature in the Gulf of Mexico drops below 68° F (20° C).
TAMPA BAY: Zoo Tampa at Lowry Park is the nation’s only non-profit hospital and rehabilitation center for injured West Indian manatees. Since 1991, the zoo has treated hundreds of manatees and released many of them back into the wild. At their David A. Straz, Jr. Manatee Critical Care Center, wild manatees are treated and reintroduced back into Florida waters.
TECO Manatee Viewing Center’s mission is to educate the public about the Florida manatee and its habitat. The center is a state and federally designated manatee sanctuary. During the center’s open season, Nov. 1 through April 15, displays, interactive exhibits and more teach visitors of all ages about the life cycle of the manatee and the challenges it faces. Center volunteers and staff, many of them TECO Energy retirees, answer questions and provide additional educational information.
CENTRAL FLORIDA: In Central Florida, the cooler months are the best for spotting manatees. When the temperature drops, manatees come to the springs to enjoy the warmer water that stays about 70 degrees all year round. Here are some of the best places to spot manatees in Central Florida!
Epic Paddle Adventures offers a Silver Springs Clear Paddleboarding and Kayaking tour where you can possibly see manatees, turtles and even monkeys. The crystal-clear waters of Silver Springs are perfect for spotting wildlife.
Get Up and Go Kayaking also offers a Silver Springs kayaking tour during manatee season. This tour gives guests a chance to see manatees up close in their natural habitat. Manatee season runs from Nov. 15 to March 31 every year.
BK Adventure offers a Florida Manatees and Dolphins Kayaking tour on the Indian River in Titusville, Florida. This tour is great for beginners and has daily departures multiple times a day.
Real Florida Adventures has a manatee snorkeling tour at Crystal River. This tour is unlike any other because Crystal River is the manatee capital of the world and the only place in America where it’s legal to swim with manatees.
Viking Ecotours offers pedal kayak tours at the most beautiful natural springs and waterways in Florida. Their tours give you the chance of seeing manatee in their natural habitat along with other native wildlife. They offer morning and afternoon tours at the Canaveral National Seashore.
ST. PETE/CLEARWATER: There’s more to St. Pete/Clearwater than what meets the sand. Below the surface, Clearwater is home to majestic manatees. The winter months offer a great opportunity to spot manatees in their natural habitat. Get Up and Go Kayaking offers clear bottom kayaking tours in Tarpon Springs starting in December, when the manatees migrate to the Spring Bayou to enjoy the warmer waters. For those interested in learning more about the beloved sea creature, the Clearwater Marine Aquarium provides guests with a comprehensive interactive educational display about manatees and their ecosystem. The Clearwater Marine Aquarium has also broken ground on a rehabilitation center for manatees that works to rescue, rehabilitate, and release them back into their aquatic communities with a push for educating the staff and public on all things manatee and manatee conservation.
CRYSTAL RIVER: Known as The Manatee Capital of The World, nowhere else will you find more manatees than in Crystal River, Homosassa, and the waters of Florida’s Citrus County. Let an experienced guide take you through the crystal- clear waters of our local springs where you can swim alongside these gentle giants. There are plenty of ways for anyone to see manatees from swimming with manatees to kayaking and stand up paddle-boarding and boat tours, to visiting the incredible fully accessible boardwalks at Three Sisters Springs Refuge in Crystal River and Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park in Homosassa.
BRADENTON: The Bradenton Area of Florida, located in Manatee County, is a great place to spot Florida’s favorite mammal. The Bishop Museum of Science and Nature is home to The Parker Manatee Rehabilitation Habitat. The 60,000-gallon habitat houses manatees that were rescued from the wild after they became sick or injured. The facility is a Stage 2 rehabilitation facility (meaning it acts as a temporary home where the manatees can come after their initial care needs are met at the hospital) and the facility has cared for 45 manatees to-date. To view the sea creatures out in the wild, visitors can head to Robinson Preserve or the Manatee River, where kayakers are sometimes able to spot a manatee. During the winter season, Bean Point is also a great place for a manatee spotting.
ST. LUCIE COUNTY: Nature enthusiasts are invited to embark on an extraordinary journey to witness the graceful presence of manatees, in the tranquil waters of St. Lucie County. Lovingly known as, “vanishing mermaids” and the gentle giants of the sea, manatees captivate hearts with their endearing charm and intriguing behaviors. This delightful destination offers the perfect opportunity to witness these magnificent creatures.
The Indian River Lagoon, a cherished natural treasure, provides a diverse ecosystem where manatees have been spotted year-round, especially during the cooler months when they seek the comforting warmth of the lagoon's waters. Visitors can embark on leisurely boat tours with Indian River Lagoon Boat Tours, relaxing clear kayak tours with Get Up and Go Kayaking, or even take a pleasurable tour on a stand-up paddleboard (SUP) with On Local Time Water Excursions to explore the lagoon's tranquil waters and catch glimpses of manatees in their serene environment.
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The Sunshine State offers visitors an assortment of unparalleled options. To learn more and plan your next trip, visit www.VISITFLORIDA.com.
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