The Florida Manatee is a majestic creature worth seeing at least once in your lifetime. Whether you’re from here or just visiting the area, we’ll tell you the best places to see manatees around Central Florida so you can catch a glimpse of them for yourself.
Before we get to that, here’s a little more about these large, gentle creatures.
Here’s Why Manatees are Worth Seeing
Manatees are Florida’s state marine mammal, also known as sea cows. These gentle giants are grayish brown with thick, wrinkled skin and propel themselves through the water with their powerful flat tails.
Legend has it sailors saw manatees in the water and mistook them as women. That’s how the idea of mermaids were born.
The truth is, sea cows are far from being mermaids. They are herbivores who eat mainly sea grass and other vegetation. Their daily routine consists mostly of feeding and resting.
Manatees also have poor eyesight and rely more on their other senses. Their hearing is superior to that of humans and they rely heavily on their sense of touch. A manatee’s body is covered in long hairs called vibrissae with each follicle connected to about 50 nerves.
Having no natural predators, their primary causes of death are boat collisions. That’s why it’s illegal to touch or feed manatees. Their docile nature leads them to be curious and trusting so it’s important they remain wild without human interaction.
Manatees prefer warm, shallow, and slow moving waters. During summer months, they can be found as far north as Massachusetts or as far west as Texas.
During the winter months when water temperatures are cooler, they gather in waters all throughout the state of Florida. Luckily for us, now is the perfect time to view them.
Here are the best places to see manatees around Central Florida:
Blue Spring State Park
Approximately 1.5 hour drive from
Blue Spring is a designated refuge for these vulnerable creatures. The water is clear for optimal observing. And during summers, you have the opportunity to kayak or snorkel to observe them in their natural habitat.
Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge
Approximately 2 hour drive
As the name suggests, Crystal River has crystal clear waters. The refuge preserves the undeveloped spring habitat in King’s Bay. Perhaps the most well known haven for these sea cows is located at Three Sister’s Spring. Although swimming is strictly prohibited during winter months, you’re likely to see many manatees here.
TECO Manatee viewing center
Approximately 1 hour, 15 minute drive
Tampa Electric created a viewing center for the large number of sea cows that congregate near the warmer water produced by the power plant. It’s also a designated sanctuary for the at-risk creatures.
If for some reason, there are no manatees there, you can make a quick trip to Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa and see one up close.
Approximately 2.5 hour drive
Head over to Orange River in Fort Myers to enjoy this park with free admission and plenty of viewing areas. Bring or rent a kayak to observe some sea cows in their natural habitat. If you’re lucky, you may see one do a barrel roll as it floats on by.
As you observe these special creatures, remember that manatees are wild animals – you can look but don’t touch, chase, or feed manatees for their own protection.
Clean Cans hopes you have a spectacular outing and enjoy spotting these gentle giants!