TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – The sighting of Florida’s beloved native West Indian manatee is a delight to both tourists and natives alike, and now that temperatures are getting cooler, manatees are on the move and getting easier to spot in many locations across the state.
In winter, manatees seek warmth when water temperatures drop below 68 degrees, such as springs with a consistent temperature of around 72 degrees, or near power plants with warm water outflow. When temperatures warm up, manatees will venture back out to find food.
Anyone looking to see manatees here in Florida should be advised they are protected by both state and federal law. It is illegal to touch, feed or harass manatees, so observe from a distance. Much more on research and statistics can be found on the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission website.
We’ve listed 8 great places where you can spot manatees as they’re warming up. Included are locations close to the Tampa Bay area and throughout Florida.
Know of any other great locations to see manatees in Tampa Bay or across Florida, or have great manatee photos or videos to show off? Let us know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org!
*Note: Sick, injured or dead manatees should be reported to FWC by calling #FWC or *FWC from a cell phone.
Location: 6990 Dickman Rd, Apollo Beach
The Tampa Bay area manatee viewing staple in Apollo Beach is open this year after being closed last season due to the coronavirus pandemic. Located across from the TECO power plant on Big Bend Road, the site is open from Nov. 1 through April 15.
The free location also features a nature trail and wildlife observation tower, as well as a stingray touch tank presented by the Florida Aquarium, a snack bar, education center and gift shop.
Location: 6131 Commercial Way, Spring Hill
Cost: $32 for a single kayak, $48 for a tandem kayak, $32 for a paddleboard
In addition to its “live” mermaids, Weeki Wachee Springs State Park is a great place to spot manatees while kayaking through the spring.
Weeki Fresh Water Adventures is the only kayaking and stand-up paddle board rental facility located inside the state park itself, that allows guests to experience the spring, its manatees and other wildlife for two hours per rental.
Location: Coffee Pot Blvd NE, St. Petersburg
The area is also a good place to spot a variety of fish as well as shorebirds and is less than a mile away from “Pelican Island.”
Location: 123 NW Hwy 19, Crystal River
Cost: Winter general admission is $20 for adults, $7.50 for children ages 6-15. Summer general admission is $12.50 for adults and $7.50 for children ages 6-15.
Land access to the refuge offers nature trails and boardwalk viewing platforms to see the springs and their native wildlife, including manatees. It is open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Location: Throughout Crystal River and Homosassa
Different tour companies in Citrus County offer kayaking or snorkeling with manatees throughout the year and many are listed on the Discover Crystal River website, linking back to captains’ websites and emails. You can also find fishing charters on the list.
Tours often offer both spring and winter prices.
Location: 4150 S Suncoast Blvd, Homosassa
Cost: $13 for adults, $5 for children ages 6-12
The park is home to paved trails and elevated boardwalks for visitors to see wildlife.
The Fish Bowl Underwater Observatory, floating in the main spring, lets guests get an up-close view of manatees.
The park is also how to captive animals that are ambassadors for their species, such as Florida panthers and red wolves.
Location: 2100 W French Ave, Orange City
Cost: $6 per vehicle, limit 2-8 per vehicle, $4 for a single occupant vehicle, $2 for pedestrians, bicyclists, extra passengers in vehicles
Though it’s a bit of a drive from the Tampa Bay area, this state park is a “winter haven” for manatees during the cooler months, with hundreds of manatees huddling to stay warm.
Swimming, kayaking, paddle boarding and all other water activities are not permitted during the winter months, November through April, though the refuge remains open to visitors. Guests are encouraged to arrive to the park early during both the winter and summer months, as it often reaches capacity.
Locations: Zoo Tampa – 1101 W Sligh Ave, Tampa
Bishop Museum of Science and Nature – 201 10th St W, Bradenton
SeaWorld Orlando – 7007 Sea World Dr, Orlando
Prices: Zoo Tampa – $44.95 for adults, $34.95 for children
Bishop Museum of Science and Nature – $23.95 for adults, $17.95 for children ages 12-17, $14.95 for children ages 5-11
SeaWorld Orlando – Tickets begin at $89.99
They only guaranteed way to see a manatee in Florida is to see a resident manatee of one of these three locations, or manatees recovering and rehabilitating in their care.
ZooTampa and SeaWorld are both home to manatee critical care centers, while the Bishop Museum of Science and Nature is a second-stage facility for manatees to continue to recover, giving the other locations space for new patients.