Where to See Manatees in Florida

Meet the Goofy Marine Mammal that Captured Florida's Heart
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This goofy-looking marine mammal with a face that only a mother could love captures the hearts of thousands of visitors each year. Visitors are eager to know where to see manatees in Florida. In fact, many travelers put swimming with these gentle giants on their Florida bucket list. In this article we’ll cover how the state of Florida invests in manatees and their habitats, share rehabilitation efforts for this protected marine mammal, where to see manatees, and how you can get involved in their well-being.

You may wonder why there is so much emphasis on saving the manatees. While every organization and person you ask may have a different viewpoint, one thing is certain. We all benefit when manatees are cared for.

While caring for the manatees, we are also caring for their habitats. When we are good stewards of their habitats, those shallow waterways and everything that lives within them, we help keep Florida healthy for everyone. Humans, animals, and plants.

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Love-ability Factor of the Florida Manatee

How Long a Manatee Can Live

Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act Passed

For Habitat Restoration Initiatives in 2024

We understand the allure of Florida and why so many people dream of living here. We also understand that thousands of people want to know where can you find manatees in Florida to admire, learn, and interact safely. That’s why we believe that finding a balance and coexisting with nature is not only possible, but desirable.

Let’s get started!

Florida’s Budget Supports Manatees

see manatees in Florida image from underwater

Why care for manatees? When we are good stewards of their habitats, those shallow waterways and everything that lives within them, we help keep Florida healthy for everyone. Humans, animals, and plants.

Focus on Florida

“Under Governor DeSantis’ leadership, over $30 million in the Fiscal Year 2022–2023 budget was allocated to enhance and expand manatee rescue and rehabilitation efforts and provide habitat restoration for areas where manatees are highly concentrated,” said Roger Young, Executive Director of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. “We are grateful for his continued dedication to providing resources for manatee care and rehabilitation.”

In recognition of the importance of manatee conservation, Governor Ron DeSantis recently highlighted funding to safeguard Florida’s manatees and enhance water quality during a visit to Blue Spring State Park.

Blue Spring State Park witnessed an astonishing sight in January 2024, with a record-breaking 932 manatees seeking warmth in its waters. This surpassed the previous New Year’s Day record of 736. Governor DeSantis has prioritized investments that improve the quality of manatee habitats. As a result, since 2019, he has allocated over $50 million to manatee programs and more than $1.8 billion to water quality enhancements. This commitment
has yielded positive results. 2023 saw the lowest manatee mortality rate since 2017.

“Florida’s manatee population continues to thrive due to our substantial investments in protection programs and water quality enhancements,” said Governor Ron DeSantis. “I commend the proactive efforts of FWC (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission) in rescue and rehabilitation.”

The leadership of the governor and collaboration with other organizations who love manatees is doing good!

“Clean, sustainable water resources are critical for Florida’s residents, visitors, economy and manatees,“ said Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Shawn Hamilton. “Because of Governor DeSantis’ vision and leadership, along with the support of the Florida Legislature, the state is seeing incredible momentum for environmental protection to ensure Florida’s natural resources are preserved for generations to come.”

Governor DeSantis’ Focus on Florida’s Future Budget Proposal, emphasizes continued investment. The budget earmarks over $330 million for targeted water quality improvements, including $100 million for the Indian River Lagoon protection program and $9.5 million to continue Florida’s manatee protection programs.

Other Budget Considerations

In addition, conservation and outdoor enjoyment are supported in the budget with these items:

  • $1.3 million and seven new positions for coral reef restoration and recovery.
  • $1.3 million and five new positions for statewide oyster and habitat resiliency enhancements.
  • $7 million for boating access and improvement projects.
  • $24.3 million for habitat restoration initiatives.
  • Over $500,000 and four new positions for enhanced harmful algal bloom response.
  • $12.8 million and four new positions for land management activities.
  • $4.7 million for 12 new law enforcement positions for patrol and investigation.
  • $7.6 million for derelict vessel removal.
  • More than $350,000 for initiatives intended to enhance the resiliency of saltwater fisheries.
  • $600,000 for artificial reefs.

Learn more about the Focus on Florida Budget Here

Manatee in rehabilitation where to see manatees in florida

“Florida’s manatee population continues to thrive due to our substantial investments in protection programs and water quality enhancements,” said Governor Ron DeSantis.

Manatee Rehabilitation in Florida

​Manatee Rehabilitation in Florida encompasses vital efforts from many facilities dedicated to caring for, and conserving Florida’s beloved manatees and their habitats. Five facilities in the State of Florida are authorized by the US Fish and Wildlife Service as Manatee Critical Care Facilities. Supported by efforts and funding at the State level and through private donations and fundraising, thousands of people in Florida are involved with care and stewardship of these mammals and their habitats.

With their gentle demeanor and iconic presence in our waterways, manatees are treasured symbols of Florida’s natural heritage and serve as ambassadors for marine conservation. There is something special about these goofy looking, gentle giants; you’ll know it the moment you see one.

Manatee Critical Care Facilities

Below you’ll find four rehabilitation facilities involved in critical care, and others that support rehabilitation at different stages. Some facilities allow visitors to view manatees in rehabilitation pools, while others focus on recovery and may protect them as they heal. These facilities also provide research and education if you want to learn more about manatees, their habitat, their challenges, and other conservation efforts.

We encourage you to follow the centers’ efforts that capture your interest. You may soon find yourself excited to join the celebrations and successes of collaborative efforts aimed at ensuring a thriving future for manatees in their native habitats. Seeing a manatee recover and return to wild Florida is always fun. Knowing that their care will continue in their natural habitat is a testament to good stewardship in Florida.

manatee nostrils among green floating plants where to see manatee florida

With their gentle demeanor and iconic presence in our waterways, manatees are treasured symbols of Florida’s natural heritage and serve as ambassadors for marine conservation.

Miami Seaquarium

Since opening in 1955, Miami Seaquarium has dedicated itself to marine life conservation, including the rehabilitation of injured or distressed manatees. In fact, they rescued their first manatee months before they welcomed their first human guests.

Building on this early commitment, the Seaquarium established a Manatee Rescue and Rehabilitation partnership (MRP), leading the way in developing techniques for manatee rescue and rehabilitation. The facility provides critical care and rehabilitation services to manatees in need before their eventual release into the wild.

Although visitors cannot directly interact with the rehabilitation facilities, they can learn about manatee conservation efforts through informative exhibits and engaging presentations.

Clearwater Marine Aquarium

Clearwater Marine Aquarium (CMA) is dedicated to marine life conservation and is actively engaged in rehabilitating injured and sick manatees. Their spacious manatee pools provide a safe haven for these gentle giants to regain their strength under the expert care of a dedicated team of veterinarians, biologists, and staff.

Although the rehabilitation facility itself isn’t open to the public, visitors can learn more about the aquarium’s manatee conservation efforts through informative presentations and exhibits. Some of the injuries addressed at the marine aquarium include cold stress syndrome and boat strikes.

After successfully nursing manatees back to health, CMA partners with the CMA Research Institute to monitor their reintegration into the wild, ensuring their ongoing well-being and improving rehabilitation methods for the species.

manatee rescue where to see manatee in florida

Some of the injuries addressed at the marine aquarium include cold stress syndrome and boat strikes.

where to see manatee florida view of manatee underwater with reflection above

The David A. Straz, Jr. Manatee Critical Care Center is one of only four federally permitted manatee rehabilitation centers in Florida.

Lowry Park Zoo - Tampa

David A. Straz, Jr. Manatee Critical Care Center located within the Lowry Park Zoo plays a vital role in manatee conservation. The Center is a pioneering non-profit facility that provides acute care for wild manatees. It is one of only four federally permitted manatee rehabilitation centers in Florida.

Since 1991, the center’s dedicated veterinary team has treated over 400 manatees, successfully nursing more than 230 back to health and reintroducing them into Florida’s waterways. This team provides emergency triage, diagnostics, surgery, and treatment for manatees in need before transporting them to long term rehab facilities.

To further their commitment to wildlife conservation, ZooTampa recently upgraded the water filtration system at the Manatee Critical Care Center. This state-of-the-art upgrade enables them to deliver advanced care, even for the most critical cases. Visitors can see this life-saving care in real time at the recovery pools of Manatee Mangrove.

SeaWorld Orlando

SeaWorld has a secret. Beyond its popular theme park, SeaWorld Orlando is home to a five-acre Rescue Center dedicated to rehabilitating ill, injured, or orphaned wildlife. This critical care facility and rehabilitation program have successfully rescued over 400 manatees over the last 30 years.

The facility features large recovery pools and provides state-of-the-art medical care with X-ray, ultrasound, and surgery capabilities to stabilize and treat sick or injured manatees. Visitors can observe the rehabilitation process firsthand through guided educational tours and interactive exhibits that showcase the center’s important work.

where to see manatee florida view of manatee underwater with reflection above

 Beyond its popular theme park, SeaWorld Orlando is home to a five-acre Rescue Center dedicated to rehabilitating ill, injured, or orphaned wildlife.

South Florida Museum – Bradenton

The Parker Manatee Rehabilitation Habitat at the Bishop Museum of Science and Nature in Bradenton has been rehabilitating manatees since 1998. It provides a temporary sanctuary for injured or orphaned manatees, offering a safe haven for their recovery and rehabilitation.

As a Stage 2 rehabilitation facility, the habitat allows recovering manatees to regain their strength and natural feeding behaviors, preparing them for their eventual return to the wild after receiving critical care elsewhere. The area looks like a cypress spring.

Visitors to the museum can observe the manatees from above and below. Above, they look into the top of the 60,000-gallon aquarium in a room with displays of manatee and sea turtle skeletons. You can peer into an underwater observatory from below and learn about their stories and the rehabilitation process.

Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens Manatee Critical Care Center

The Jacksonville Zoo runs a specialized manatee rehab center focused on providing medical care and rehabilitation for manatees needing extended recovery before being released back into the wild.

Lee County Manatee Rehabilitation Facility

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission operates the Lee County Manatee Rehabilitation Facility, which provides long-term rehab services for rescued manatees in southwest Florida. Their pools and veterinary support help stabilize manatees before eventual release.

Manatee Hospital at the Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park

The state park has dedicated manatee rehabilitation pools and habitats where sick, injured, and orphaned manatees can recover over extended time frames while receiving veterinary care from park and state wildlife experts.

Brevard Zoo-Melbourne

Recognized as one of the best zoos in North America, the Brevard Zoo is expanding its conservation efforts with the addition of a new manatee rehabilitation facility. With the help of grant funding and generous donations, the Zoo received the necessary permitting and support to establish manatee rehabilitation facilities in 2023.

Read about Brevard Zoo Aquarium Project.

While plans are underway to create a state-of-the-art rehabilitation center at their future Aquarium and Conservation Center, the Zoo will initially build three tanks in behind-the-scenes areas to begin their manatee rehabilitation efforts. These initial facilities will be a safe haven with abilities to care for stable, non-critical manatee patients in need of additional monitoring, weight gain or better weather conditions for their eventual release.

The goal for all manatee patients at the Brevard Zoo will be to nurse them back to health and reintroduce them to their natural environments, contributing to the conservation of this beloved species.

Brevard County is at the center of manatee deaths, largely due to environmental issues affecting seagrass in the Indian River Lagoon. Large algal blooms in that biodiverse estuary have resulted in a significant loss of seagrass habitat which in turn has led to an alarming number of manatees dying from starvation. Governor DeSantis’ Budget addresses this area of concern.

Further addressing the environmental issues affecting manatees, the Brevard Zoo completed its first seagrass nursery in October 2023, with plans to use this grass for lagoon restoration projects beginning in 2024.

Video: Manatees Return to Crystal River

Where Else to See Manatees in Florida in the Wild

Whether exploring designated manatee refuges, observation centers, or scenic coastal areas, Florida visitors and residents have ample opportunities to witness the grace and beauty of wild manatees in their natural habitat. These natural habitats and the surrounding outdoor areas are the playgrounds that command our attention, and demand our stewardship.

And speaking of stewardship, it has been said that time in nature is like a fading memory, reminding us what wild Florida looked like long before the highrises and houses. Always remember to respect wildlife and adhere to guidelines for responsible wildlife viewing to ensure the continued protection of Florida manatees and all their neighbors!

Almost every waterway in Florida provides an opportunity to see marine life, including manatees. In the list below, we categorized them by region so you can plan you trips a little easier. We tried to get all the notable ones, and will update this as needed. Let’s get on with our quest for where to see manatees in Florida…

Tip: Polarized sunglasses aid in seeing manatees in the wild.

Seeing Manatees in Central Florida

In Addition to SeaWorld Florida, Walt Disney World’s Epcot Center, and Brevard Zoo (mentioned earlier), see out these locations to view manatees:

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, situated along Florida’s Space Coast, is a haven for wildlife enthusiasts and nature lovers. Spanning over 140,000 acres of pristine habitats, including marshes, estuaries, and coastal dunes, the refuge offers unparalleled opportunities for wildlife observation and outdoor recreation.

One of its most iconic residents at Merritt Island is the West Indian manatee. Visitors can explore the refuge’s diverse ecosystems through hiking trails, wildlife drives, and paddling adventures, while keeping an eye out for manatees along the refuge’s waterways, especially in areas like Haulover Canal and the Indian River Lagoon.

The refuge’s official website serves as an invaluable resource for planning your visit, providing information on visitor centers, activities, and conservation efforts. Whether you’re a birdwatcher, photographer, or simply seeking solace in nature, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge promises an unforgettable experience.

Silver Springs State Park

Planning your visit to Silver Springs State Park at the right time can significantly increase your chances of witnessing the manatees. During late November to early March, the springs become a bustling hub for manatees and their adorable baby calves. While the summer months still offer excellent opportunities for spotting manatees, their numbers tend to peak in the cooler winter months, when they seek refuge in the warm spring waters.

For an all-around memorable experience, consider visiting Silver Springs State Park and Central Florida in the shoulder seasons of October/November or March/April, when temperatures are pleasant, and the park’s diverse wildlife is in full bloom. This is when you’ll have the perfect blend of comfortable temperatures, lush greenery, and vibrant wildlife activity, creating an idyllic setting for exploring the park’s hiking trails and paddling its tranquil waterways.

While summers in Florida are undeniably gorgeous, keep in mind that Silver Springs State Park can get pretty toasty for hiking or paddling adventures.

Blue Spring State Park

Head to the St. Johns River for a manatee sanctuary renowned for crystal-clear waters and abundant wildlife. If you paddle the warm waters on a cold winter morning, you will sense the ethereal atmosphere of Blue Spring State Park.

Situated near Orange City, Blue Spring State Park became a state park in 1972 after Jacques Cousteau filmed an episode called “The Forgotten Mermaids.”

From elevated boardwalks and observation platforms, guests can enjoy unobstructed views of these magnificent creatures as they bask in the warm waters of the spring run. High season for manatees at Blue Spring is from November through March. The park is a designated manatee refuge.

While you can swim in the park at other times of the year, once the manatees arrive, the area is off limits for swimming.You can rent or launch your kayak or paddleboard to get on the water, or enjoy a guided river boat cruise.

A local tip: get there early and be prepared to wait because the park fills to capacity quickly and only allows visitors as available. As the water warms up, the manatees head to the St. Johns River.

Seeing Manatees in Northeast Florida

Fanning Springs State Park

In addition to the work done at the Jacksonville Zoo (mentioned above), Fanning Springs State Park have occasional manatee sightings on Suwannee River. Outdoor enthusiasts can paddle the waterways with a eye toward those shadows just below the surface.

Wakulla Springs State Park

Visitors enjoy manatee viewing from the diving platform, or when they embark on a boat tour at Wakulla Springs State Park.

In addition, the summer months bring manatees back to the waterways around the Wakulla and the St. Marks Rivers. The best way to have a manatee encounter is by kayak or paddleboard. If you don’t have your own, you can rent them nearby.

Seeing Manatees in South Florida

Manatee Lagoon – West Palm Beach

Situated on the Intracoastal Waterway, Manatee Lagoon is a unique educational center that offers a glimpse into the world of manatees, showcasing their behaviors, habitats, and conservation efforts. Visitors at this FPL Eco-Discovery Center observe manatees in their natural habitat from the comfort of the facility’s observation deck, which provides panoramic views of the surrounding waterways. You’ll find hands-on exhibits in the 16,000-square-foot center.

Guided tours and interactive exhibits offer insight into the lives of these gentle giants, highlighting the importance of protecting their fragile ecosystem. The center also hosts educational programs and events for all ages. With its prime location in West Palm Beach and dedication to manatee preservation, Manatee Lagoon invites visitors to connect with these iconic creatures (the visit is free), and gain a newfound respect for Florida’s diverse aquatic environment.

Florida Keys

The Florida Keys stretch from Key Largo to Key West. The islands are an enchanting blend of natural beauty, vibrant marine life, and laid-back island charm. Renowned for coral reefs and crystal-clear waters, the Keys are a paradise for snorkelers, divers, and outdoor enthusiasts.

Encounters with marine creatures such as manatees, dolphins, and sea turtles are highlights for visitors. From the coral gardens of John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo to the picturesque beaches of Bahia Honda State Park in the Lower Keys and the National Key Deer Refuge, there are endless opportunities to immerse yourself in the wonders of the underwater world.

Visitors can explore these areas by boat, kayak, or paddleboard and watch for manatees grazing on seagrass beds.

Fort Pierce Inlet State Park

Along Florida’s Atlantic coast, Fort Pierce Inlet State Park offers visitors a unique chance to connect with nature and potentially witness the gentle giants of the sea. While manatee sightings are not as frequent as in the freshwater springs, the park offers various vantage points and activities that increase the likelihood of encountering them.

Scenic spots like the fishing pier and shoreline areas serve as prime observation decks overlooking the Indian River Lagoon, particularly during tidal changes when manatees may gracefully pass through the inlet. Kayaking and paddleboarding offer tranquil and immersive ways to explore the inlet. Visitors glide silently across the water and potentially catch glimpses of marine life, including the iconic manatees.

Guided tours led by knowledgeable local outfitters and eco-tour operators provide expert insights into manatee behavior, habitat, and conservation efforts. Taking a tour increases the chance of meaningful encounters and a deeper understanding of these gentle giants.

The park is part of a protected network dedicated to conserving manatees and their habitats, with regulations in place to protect these vulnerable creatures, such as speed limits and designated manatee protection zones for boaters. Educational resources such as interpretive displays and ranger-led programs inform visitors about manatees’ ecological importance and ongoing conservation efforts.

While sightings can never be guaranteed, a visit to Fort Pierce Inlet State Park offers visitors a chance to connect with nature and potentially witness these remarkable creatures in their coastal habitat. However, visitors are urged to practice responsible wildlife viewing and adhere to park regulations to ensure the well-being of manatees and their environment.

Biscayne National Park

Biscayne National Park is a beautiful natural treasure located beyond the hustle, bustle and highrises Miami is known for. Manatees are occasionally spotted in this diverse marine ecosystem and locals say the best place to see them is in the harbor just north of the Visitor’s Center. you may also find them in the park’s shallow bays and mangrove forests. Visitors can explore the park’s waters by boat or participate in guided snorkeling tours to encounter these elusive mammals.

Seeing Manatees in Southwest Florida

closeup of manatee face

Cayo Costa State Park

Cayo Costa State Park is a serene gem with nine miles of untouched beach off the coast of southwest Florida. Visitors have a chance to witness the grace of manatees in their natural habitat. As part of the park’s diverse marine ecosystem, manatees can often be spotted in the surrounding waters, particularly during the cooler months when they seek refuge in the park’s warm, shallow bays.

Accessible only by boat, the park protects the Charlotte Harbor Estuary. You can navigate through the park’s pristine waterways, keeping an eye out for the telltale signs of manatees surfacing for air. Joining a guided eco-tour can enhance your chances of spotting manatees while learning about the park’s unique ecology.

Cayo Costa State Park is renowned for its rich biodiversity, making it an ideal destination for wildlife enthusiasts. While seeking out manatees, visitors may also encounter dolphins, sea turtles, and a variety of bird species, adding to the park’s allure.

Relax on the park’s beautiful beaches and keep a lookout for manatees swimming near the shore. With patience and a bit of luck, visitors may catch glimpses of these fascinating creatures as they gracefully navigate the coastal waters.

Whether exploring by boat, joining a guided tour, or simply enjoying a day at the beach, Cayo Costa State Park offers numerous opportunities for unforgettable manatee encounters amidst its breathtaking coastal scenery.

One way to get to the 2,426-acre State Park is Cayo Costa Ferry and Captiva Cruises. It leaves at 9am from Fisherman’s Village in Punta Gorda. For those up for an adventure, overnight camping is permitted; however, be prepared with the proper gear to handle mosquitoes and critters trying to get into your food!

Lee County Manatee Park

Located in Fort Myers across from the Florida Power and Light, Manatee Park is a haven for manatees during the winter when water temperature in the Gulf of Mexico drops below 68 degrees. The welcoming warm water is a byproduct of cooling off the power-generating equipment. Rent a kayak to paddle the waters, enjoy the butterfly garden, walk the nature trails and boardwalks, and enjoy this side of nature.

Lovers Key State Park

Lovers Key State Park, comprising four enchanting barrier islands, is a gem nestled near Fort Myers Beach. During the winter months, this coastal haven becomes a hotspot for manatee sightings, especially within its intricate network of waterways. Adventurous visitors can rent kayaks or paddle boards to embark on a journey through the park’s serene estuaries and winding mangrove-lined channels, all while eagerly scanning the waters for glimpses of these majestic creatures.

Venice, FL

Venice, Florida, nestled along the Gulf Coast, is celebrated for its stunning coastal scenery, being the shark tooth capital of the world, and abundant marine life, including manatees. The waters surrounding Venice, notably the Venice Inlet and the Intracoastal Waterway, are hotspots for frequent manatee sightings. Paddle the quiet waterways and keep your eyes open for the tell-tale signs of manatee activity. Look for shadows in the water, and that distintive swirl made by the manatees subtle movements.

Seeing Manatees in West Central Florida

Crystal River

Crystal River, located along Florida’s Gulf Coast, is renowned worldwide for its intimate connection with manatees. As the “Home of the Manatee,” this charming town serves as a gateway to the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, a designated sanctuary for these gentle giants.

Visitors flock to Crystal River, particularly during the winter months, for the unparalleled opportunity to swim, snorkel, and kayak alongside manatees in their natural habitat. The area boasts numerous springs, including Three Sisters Springs, where manatees seek refuge in the warmer waters when temperatures drop in surrounding rivers and bays.

Weeki Wachee Springs State Park

Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, nestled along Florida’s Nature Coast, is timeless. Known for crystal-clear springs, pristine waterways, and captivating mermaid shows, Weeki Wachee Springs offers a unique blend of adventure and nostalgia.

One of the park’s most cherished attractions is its resident manatees, which seek refuge in the spring-fed waters year-round. Visitors enjoy scenic boat tours, paddleboard excursions, or kayak adventures to explore the park’s stunning landscapes and encounter these gentle giants in their tranquil sanctuary.

Entrance to TECO viewing center where to manatees in Florida

TECO Manatee Viewing Center – Apollo Beach

Operated by Tampa Electric, the Manatee Viewing Center offers visitors a unique opportunity to observe wild manatees in their natural habitat. They can have as many as 850 manatees gathering here at the same time. Open from November 1 to April 15, the viewing center is one part of the 500-acres Florida Conservation and Technology Center.

The admission-free center educates visitors about manatee conservation and provides information about local rehabilitation efforts. You can touch stingrays and talk with the volunteers to find out more about manatees, conservation, energy and more.

Stretch your legs on the easy and flat trail that leads to an observation tower where you can get incredible panoramic views of the Tampa skyline. The interactive technology center includes games that help you learn more about the future of energy and solar. It’s a fun afternoon!

Manatee Springs State Park

For those seeking a firsthand encounter with Florida’s beloved manatees, Manatee Springs State Park offers a unique and unforgettable experience. Observation platforms and boardwalks offer prime viewing spots, allowing visitors to marvel at these gentle giants in their natural habitat. The best time to see them is during the cooler months when manatees seek warmer waters.

For a more immersive experience, the park allows snorkeling and diving opportunities, where visitors can swim alongside manatees while maintaining a safe 50-foot distance and adhering to limits on the number of divers in the water at any given time.

Educational programs and guided tours led by park rangers and certified guides provide invaluable insights into manatee behavior, biology, and the ongoing efforts to conserve these magnificent creatures. Visitors are encouraged to practice responsible viewing, respecting the manatees’ space and following park guidelines to ensure minimal disturbance to these gentle giants in their natural habitat.

Beyond the unforgettable manatee encounters, Manatee Springs State Park’s natural beauty, including lush vegetation, diverse wildlife, and recreational opportunities like hiking, biking, and camping (including RV and glamping). Overall, a visit to Manatee Springs State Park promises a memorable experience rich in wildlife and natural wonder.

*Read this to learn more about luxury camping

Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge

As part of the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge Complex, Chassahowitzka provides unique opportunities for observing manatees throughout the year. Originally established in 1943 to benefit wintering ducks and coots, it’s now important for endangered West Indian manatees.

There are designated manatee sanctuary zones within the refuge, where manatees gather in the warm, spring-fed waters during the cooler months. Visitors can observe them from observation decks or while kayaking along designated water trails.

You can join a guided eco-tour or navigate the waterways of Chassahowitzka by kayak or canoe, immersing yourself in the tranquil beauty of the refuge. Along the way, keep a lookout for manatees surfacing for air or grazing on submerged vegetation in the shallow waters.

Coffee Pot Bayou

Coffee Pot Bayou, whose unusual name first appeared on an 1882 map of the area, is nestled in the heart of St. Petersburg, Florida. Whether you’re a coffee lover or not, this water body provides a tranquil haven for manatee enthusiasts seeking unforgettable encounters. As part of the vibrant ecosystem of Tampa Bay, Coffee Pot Bayou offers prime viewing opportunities for manatees year-round.

Explore the waterfront parks along Coffee Pot Bayou, such as North Shore Park and Coffee Pot Park. From designated viewing areas, visitors can observe manatees lounging in the bayou’s shallow waters or grazing on aquatic vegetation. Visit the nearby Boyd Hill Nature Preserve and its Wildlife Interpretive Center for educational exhibits and programs about local wildlife, including manatees. Gain insights into manatee conservation efforts and learn fascinating facts about these marine mammals.

Located between the Historic Old Northeast district and Snell Isle, Coffee Pot Bayou is one of the oldest neighborhoods in St. Petersburg. While manatees can be spotted year-round in Coffee Pot Bayou, the winter months typically offer the best chances for sightings, as manatees migrate to warmer waters. However, visitors may still encounter these magnificent creatures during other times of the year, especially during cooler mornings or evenings.

ariel view of manatee

Whether exploring designated manatee refuges, observation centers, or scenic coastal areas, Florida visitors and residents have ample opportunities to witness the grace and beauty of wild manatees in their natural habitat.

Eco-Tours for Manatee Viewing

Florida is the only place in the United States where you will routinely find manatees gathering in large numbers. They love warm water and Florida has plenty of it!

There are several companies throughout the state offering guided tours to get on the water and see these treasured animals in the wild. Here are a few to consider:

Naples, FL

Manatee Sightseeing & Wildlife Adventures
Enjoy a 90-minue tour around the Faka Union Canal, part of the Ten Thousand Islands National Refuge. Location: Naples, FL

Fort Myers, FL

Manatee Kayaking Company
A wonderful activity for the whole family, experience a kayak tour of the Orange River. If you prefer, rent a kayak and paddle through the mangroves on your own.

Fort Pierce, FL

Sunrise City Adventures
Situated on the north jetty of the Fort Pierce Inlet, Fort Pierce Inlet State Par offers unparalleled views of the rugged coastline. Discover the park’s rich ecosystem, where mangroves, seagrass beds, and salt marshes create essential habitats for a multitude of fish, birds, and reptiles.

Other Ways to Get Involved with Manatees in Florida

closeup of manatee face where to see manatee in florida

There are several ways for individuals interested in manatees to get involved with their care and conservation efforts. Here are a few!

Save the Manatee Club

Save the Manatee Club’s mission is to safeguard imperiled manatees and their aquatic habitats for generations to come. You can make a tangible difference by symbolically adopting a real manatee for yourself or a loved one, starting at just $25 per year. With each adoption, you’ll receive a personalized certificate, a captivating biography of your chosen manatee, a membership handbook, and quarterly updates in our newsletter, The Manatee Zone.

Plus, higher-level adoptions come with exciting gifts tailored to your level of support. Best of all, your contribution directly supports efforts to protect these gentle giants and their watery homes. Unlike other animal adoption programs, our manatees are real, living creatures with their own unique stories. Dive into the world of manatee conservation with us and make a splash in the fight to save these incredible marine mammals!

Volunteer with Rehabilitation Centers

Many rehabilitation centers mentioned earlier, such as Lowry Park Zoo’s David A. Straz, Jr. Manatee Critical Care Center and Clearwater Marine Aquarium, offer volunteer opportunities for individuals to assist with caring for injured or orphaned manatees. Volunteers may help with tasks such as feeding, cleaning enclosures, and providing enrichment activities for the manatees.

Participate in Citizen Science Programs

Various organizations and research institutions conduct citizen science programs focused on manatee conservation. These programs often involve monitoring manatee populations, recording sightings, and collecting data on behavior and habitat use. Individuals can contribute valuable information to ongoing research efforts by participating in citizen science initiatives.

Support Conservation Organizations 

Numerous non-profit organizations are dedicated to manatee conservation, such as Save the Manatee Club and the Manatee Conservation Foundation. Individuals can support these organizations by donating, volunteering at events, or participating in fundraising campaigns. Supporting conservation organizations helps fund vital research, rescue, rehabilitation, and advocacy efforts to protect manatees and their habitats.

Educate Others

One of the most effective ways to contribute to manatee conservation is by raising awareness and educating others about the importance of protecting these gentle marine mammals and their habitats. Education can involve:

  • Sharing information on social media.
  • Organizing educational events or presentations.
  • Advocating for policies and practices that benefit manatees and their ecosystems.

Practice Responsible Boating and Water Recreation 

Manatees face numerous threats, including collisions with boats and other watercraft. By practicing responsible boating and water recreation practices, such as obeying speed limits, avoiding designated manatee zones, and using caution in shallow areas where manatees may be present, individuals can help reduce the risk of collisions and protect manatees from harm.

Overall, getting involved in manatee conservation requires passion, dedication, and a willingness to take action to protect these iconic marine mammals and ensure their survival for future generations.

Donate to Manatee care at Florida State Parks

For members of the public interested in manatee care in Florida State Parks, donations can be made at the Florida State Parks Foundation website with a note that identifies the gift as for manatee support.

What Else

It’s worth noting that manatees are wild animals, and their presence in these areas can vary depending on weather, water temperature, and seasonal migration patterns. Visitors should also be mindful of any regulations or guidelines to protect the manatees and their habitats. Additionally, if any specific questions or additional information is needed about manatee conservation efforts or related topics, feel free to ask!

How Can You Help Manatees?

manatee with boat strikes on back

Adhere to “No Wake Zones.”  While manatees hear high frequency sounds very well, they struggle to hear low frequency sounds (like those emitted from a boat’s engine).

Without natural predators, human interaction is often a source of danger for manatees. Most of the time, it is not intentional. 

While enjoying Florida’s outdoor playground, we can inadvertently do something that stresses or harms the wildlife that lives where we play, or their environment. Luckily, there are simple things we can do to reduce a negative impact so that we can live in harmony with our natural world for generations.

  1. Keep your distance from manatees when you see them in their natural habitat, even when it’s tempting to get a closer look.
  2. Adopt a Manatee and you’ll have an opportunity to learn more while doing good. 
  3. Participate in efforts to report manatee sightings and notify the proper organizations when you see a manatee that is hurt, or has been harassed. We understand that often our first response is to not get involved in some situations; however, the manatees cannot speak for themselves. They are docile, not aggressive, and because of that some may take advantage of their nature. While this doesn’t happen often, don’t hesitate to speak up if it’s something you witness.
  4. Adhere to “No Wake Zones.” We understand the thrill of gliding over the water on a sunny Florida day; however, slow down when you enter areas where manatees live. While manatees hear high frequency sounds very well, they struggle to hear low frequency sounds (like those emitted from a boat’s engine). Brain studies indicate that they may be a bit blind (“minimal behavioral role of vision), relying more on sound than sight. Buoys painted with a familiar red circle with a diagonal line often designate these areas. When you watch a video showing an innocent manatee whose flesh has been sliced by a boat’s propeller, you’ll understand the harm, sometimes fatal, a propeller can cause.
  5. Be mindful of the products you use at home. Loss or contamination of habitat is one of the threats to manatees. Sewage, manure, and fertilizer run-off can enter the waters where they live and cause algal blooms. Some of these are toxic. Because manatees eat a lot of sea grass and other aquatic plants, the toxins can kill them.
  6. Download the free Manatee Alert mobile app. Designed to display manatee protection and speed zones for Florida, users can also submit sightings of manatees.

Manatee Frequently Asked Questions

manatee with boat strikes on back

Why are manatees called “sea cows”?

Manatees are part of the order Sirenia which includes several species of manatees and one species of dugong. Collectively, they are often called “sea cows” due to their herbivorous diet and gentle grazing behavior, reminiscent of terrestrial cows. However, manatees are marine mammals more closely related to elephants than cows.

Where can I see manatees in Florida?

Manatees are found in various habitats throughout Florida, including rivers, springs, estuaries, and coastal areas. Some popular spots for manatee viewing include Crystal River, Blue Spring State Park, and the Manatee Viewing Center in Apollo Beach.

Are manatees endangered?

Yes, manatees are classified as a threatened species and are protected under the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act.. While their populations have shown signs of recovery in recent years, they still face numerous threats. Boat strikes remain the highest threat. Other challenges include loss of habitat, low birth rates, and cold stress events.

What do manatees eat?

Manatees are primarily herbivores. While they occasionally feed on fish, their primary diet is a variety of aquatic plants, including seagrasses, algae, and other vegetation. They use their prehensile lips to graze on vegetation, consuming large quantities of plant material each day.

How do manatees communicate?

Manatees communicate with each other using a variety of vocalizations, including chirps, whistles, and squeaks. They use these vocalizations for social interactions, mating displays, and mother-calf communication.

How many species of manatees are there?

There are three manatee species in the world: West Indian, West African, and Amazonian. There are two subspecies of the West Indian manatee: the Antillean manatee (Trichechus manatus manatus) and the Florida manatee (Trichechus manatus latirostris).

Do manatees have any predators?

Manatees have few natural predators in their habitats due to their large size, thick skin, and herbivorous diet. While sharks and alligators may occasionally prey on young or weak individuals, human activities such as boat strikes pose a greater threat to manatees.

How long can manatees hold their breath?

Manatees can hold their breath for up to 20 minutes underwater, but they typically surface to breathe every 3-5 minutes. This breathing pattern allows them to replenish oxygen levels and expel carbon dioxide from their lungs.

Do manatees migrate?

Yes, manatees exhibit a seasonal migration pattern, moving between freshwater and saltwater habitats in search of warmer waters and abundant food sources. They may travel long distances during their migrations, particularly in response to changes in water temperature. In Florida, many manatees rely on the warm waters found in natural springs and around power plants during the winter months.

What do manatees do all day?

Manatees are known for their slow-paced lifestyle, spending most of their time eating, resting, and socializing.They spend about eight hours a day eating and will consume from four to nine percent of its body weight with aquatic vegetation.

What is the manatee’s closest living relative?

Millions of years ago, a group of animals classified in the order Sirenia wandered the planet. Through evolution, some of these animals waded into the waters looking for food, others stayed on land. Both manatees and elephants belong to the order Sirenia and share a common ancestor that lived millions of years ago. The land-loving ones also include hyraxes and aardvarks. Despite their physical differences and adaptations to different environments, manatees and elephants share several anatomical and genetic similarities that reflect their evolutionary relationship.

How big is a manatee?

Manatees are large, averaging 10 feet in length and 1200 pounds. The West Indian Manatee, or Caribbean Manatee (officially known as Trichechus manatus) can grow lengths more than 14 feet and weigh more than 3000 pounds.

Where in the world do manatees live?

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,manatees are found in the southeastern U.S., eastern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, Costa Rica, Panamá, Nicaragua, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana, Brazil, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and in the Bahamas.

*****

These frequently asked questions provide valuable insights into the basic biology, behavior, and conservation status of manatees in Florida, helping to educate the public and raise awareness about the importance of protecting these iconic marine mammals.

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About The Author

Dawn Damico

Editor of Vitabella Magazine, travel writer and photographer, and content marketing strategist for the travel, health, wellness, and real estate markets. I'm curious! I love to explore and share what I discover with hopes it will make your life easier, more fun, and hopefully less stressful. Grab a cup of coffee (or tea...or wine), sit back, and enjoy the food, health and travel articles that fill this online magazine. Feel free drop me a line - I'd love to hear from you! Can I help you with a project you're working on or your content needs? Are you a DMO who would like some additional content to help promote your destination? Learn more about my services for SEO copywriting, web content, content marketing solutions, and creating destination guides. My portfolio is found here: http://www.YourResearchDiva.com/portfolio

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