Cooler weather means the lovable sea cows are congregating in warmer waters. Planning a vacation to the Sunshine State’s Gulf Coast? From Homosassa Springs to Fort Myers, here are some of my favorite places on where to see manatees in Florida’s Gulf Coast, both in their native habitat and in captivity.
Citrus County: Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park and Three Sisters Springs
Looking to view manatees during the summer in a natural habitat? Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park is the best bet. The park serves as a refuge and rehabilitation center for the threatened species. Check out the floating observation platform called the “Fish Bowl” to peer into the underwater environment and typically see fish and manatees swim by the large windows. Other inhabitants of Homosassa Springs State Park are native Florida wildlife such as American crocodiles, bobcats and black bears but the star is Lu, Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park’s resident hippopotamus, who celebrated his 55th birthday in 2015.
Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park
4150 S. Suncoast Blvd.
Homosassa, Fla. 34446
Tel: (352) 628-5343
Seeing manatees in Three Sisters Springs in Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge (the only refuge created to protect the Florida manatee) is a treat and the best time to view them is mid-November through April, however, it’s extremely congested that time of year, with manatees and curious visitors. Because of this, visitation may be limited. The way to get to the springs is either through kayaking or paddleboarding or taking a sightseeing trip that lets visitors snorkel their way into the springs. Although I have kayaked into the springs, I have not snorkeled into it.
There is also a boardwalk that provides a look into the springs, however, it has limited access. Visit the website of the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge for additional information and plan your visit.
Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge
1502 S.E. Kings Bay Drive
Crystal River, Fla. 34429
Tel: (352) 563-2088
Manatee Hospital at Lowry Park Zoo
At the Lowry Park Zoo, visitors can look into two observation pools (above and underwater views) and see rehabilitated manatees at the Florida Manatee and Aquatic Center and David A. Straz Jr. Manatee Hospital. It is the world’s “only non-profit, acute care facility” soly “dedicated to critical care for injured, sick, and orphaned wild manatees.” (Source: Lowry Park Zoo website, Jan. 16, 2017) In addition to manatees, there are other animals and experiences to be enjoyed, including feeding giraffes, petting stingrays and seeing a koala bear.
Lowry Park Zoo
1101 West Sligh Ave.
Tampa, Fla. 33604
Tel: (813) 935-8552
Manatee Viewing Center, Apollo Beach
Power plants and manatees can be a perfect match at the Manatee Viewing Center at Tampa Electric (TECO) in Apollo Beach is no exception. TECO’s Big Bend Power Station discharges warm weather which makes it ideal manatee habitat. I mean, who doesn’t love a good soak in warm water? The Manatee Viewing Center is open Nov. 1 – April 15 and offers free access for visitors to learn about and view the sea cows. Other wildlife I have seen include eagle rays, tarpon, bonnethead sharks, little green herons and brown pelicans. Although parking has been expanded over the last few years, it’s still limited. A manatee webcam is available for viewing in the comfort of your home.
Manatee Viewing Center
6990 Dickman Rd
Apollo Beach, Fla. 33572
Tel: (813) 228-4289
Admission is free, donations appreciated.
Parker Manatee Aquarium at the South Florida Museum, Bradenton
Snooty is probably the oldest living manatee in captivity. He turned 68 years old in 2016! And, according to author Amy Tan, Snooty kissed her husband’s knees during her Sarasota visit in Jan. 1015. The senior manatee lives at the Parker Manatee Aquarium at the South Florida Museum in Bradenton, located less than an hour’s drive south of Tampa. Learn about the area’s history dating back 2.6 million years ago to present day. Injured manatees are rehabilitated in the Parker Manatee Aquarium then when capable, they are returned to their native habitat.
Parker Manatee Aquarium at the South Florida Museum
201 10th St. W.
Bradenton, Fla. 34205
Tel: (941) 746-4131
Mote Marine Aquarium, Sarasota
Science and nature educate visitors in an entertainment format at the Mote Marine Aquarium. The aquarium’s most popular residents are Hugh and Buffett, manatees born in captivity and have called Mote home since 1996. According to Mote, they are trained to participate in research and have helped scientists determine how well manatees see and hear. Visitors can also pet stingray (barbs have been removed), observe seahorses and enjoy a sea life encounter cruise.
Mote Marine Aquarium
1600 Ken Thompson Pkwy.
Sarasota, Fla. 34236
Tel: (941) 388-4441
View Manatees at Manatee Park, Fort Myers
Cool Caloosahatchee River water is warmed as it passes the Florida Power & Light plant creating a haven for manatees when temperatures are cooler. The best opportunity to view manatees at Manatee Park is during the winter months, November through March, when water and air temperatures are typically cooler. During the summer when water temperatures have warmed, it’s rare to see a manatee at the park. Calusa Blueway Outfitters offers guiding kayaking trips departing from Manatee Park and an opportunity to take a closer look at the gentle giants (Tel: 239-481-4600).
5761 Palm Beach Blvd.
Fort Myers, Fla. 33905
Nominal fee to park.
Where’s your favorite place to view manatees in Florida?
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