If you don’t know where the best place to see Manatees in Florida, you’re surely missing out on seeing the magnificence of these incredible gentle creatures of the sea! We’ll share where the best manatee viewing locations are! And we’ll show you where you can get an up close and personal look at how they thrive after migrating for the winter. You’ll also learn when the best months and best time of day to visit the manatees throughout coastal Florida.
But, before we learn where all the best places to see manatees in Florida, let’s first learn a few fun facts about these giant aquatic mammals and why they come to coasts of Florida.
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Where’s the Best Place to See Manatees in Florida?
And, where can you swim with the Manatees?
Where do Florida Manatees migrate from?
The gentle sea cows and bulls migrate to the warm turquoise artesian springs, coastal inlets and power plant discharge canals for refuge, rest and relaxation! And they’re all in the state of Florida!
But, did you know that some Florida manatees migrate even further up the Atlantic coastline to Georgia and the Carolinas?
And, sometimes hundreds of these gentle aquatic creatures travel as far north as Massachusetts during warm summer months.
When do Manatees mate?
Manatee mating season is usually from March to September in shallow coastal waters. Manatees will congregate in groups of 10-15 to breed.
But, it’s not the male that’s looking for some tail! Female manatees in heat (estrus) are the pursuers; seeking out a dominant male manatee to breed with.
Female manatees (cows) grow to be anywhere from 10′ to 14′ long and up to 3500 pounds! Males manatees (bulls) are typically smaller measuring about 9′ long and weighing 1200-1800 pounds.
Unlike other animals, manatees are not monogamous. The reproductive rate for manatees is low. Both, cows and bulls reach sexual maturity at about 5 years. They do not create permanent relationship bonds with the bull they mate with.
During mating, a dozen or more bulls will follow a cow until she decides on ‘the one’.
Females have a live birth to one baby manatee (calf) once every 3 years. Twin births are a rare phenomenon, but it does occur.
Although breeding and birth may occur at any time during the year, there appears to be a broad spring-summer calving peak season.
Newborn manatee calves are capable of swimming to the surface on their own and vocalize at or soon after they are born.
What is a Manatee’s Behavior Characteristics?
Manatees are named for their slow meandering to graze on vegetation. They are non-territorial, non-aggressive and eat 6-8 hours a day; primarily feeding on grasses and aquatic plants.
They spend the rest of their day socializing with other manatees as well as strengthening their curiosity. Manatees are inquisitive yet very docile.
According to Sea World,
“Manatees are best described as semi-social. The basic social unit is a female and her calf. Groups of manatees gather and disperse casually.”
A group of manatees is called an aggregation. When they are grouping, they are either sharing a large grazing location, in search of a Cow, or just meandering as a herd.
They do tend to herd in the winter with other manatees in warmer and peaceful aquatic environments and disperse casually.
While aggregating, they play games like follow-the-leader and they love to bodysurf. Their snout nuzzles and vocals are signs of friendly communication, similar to human hugging or shaking hands.
Is the Florida Manatee a protected species?
Violations of these acts may result in fines up to $100,000 and/or 1 year in prison.
How many Manatees are in the United States?
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,
“The current (as of 2021) range-wide population is estimated to be at least 13,000 manatees, with more than 6,500 in the southeastern United States and Puerto Rico.
When aerial surveys began in 1991, there were an estimated 1,267 manatees in Florida.
Today there are more than 6,300 in Florida, representing a significant increase over the past 25 years. Learn more about the manatee’s road to recovery.”
What do Manatees eat?
Manatees are herbivores. They eat submerged and floating aquatic plants such as seagrass and other natural underwater vegetation.
According to Save the Manatee organization,
“Manatees can eat 10–15% of their body weight in vegetation daily. A 1,000-pound (453-kilogram) manatee, for example, would probably eat between 100–150 pounds (45-68 kilograms) of food a day.”
Do Alligators attack Manatees?
Alligators generally hang out in marshes. Whereas manatees tend to hang out in clear waters where they can swim freely.
So, to answer the question, ‘are alligators a threat to Manatees?”, the short answer is very rarely do alligators attack or interact with manatees.
Due to their large size and the ability to swim faster than alligators, they’re not in the alligator’s food chain. Manatees have no natural predators nor are they predatory. They don’t pose as a threat or seek out other wildlife for food.
In other words, the manatee and alligator do coexist together in the same habitat!
When is the best time of the year to see Manatees in Florida?
While you can spot the manatees year round, the months of November through April are the best time to see manatees in Florida.
However, from December through February, the manatee population is at its’ largest.
The summer months aren’t as favorable for manatee sightings due to the water temperatures being too warm for their liking.
When is the best time of the day to see Manatees?
The best time to see or swim with the manatees is early morning 6:00 am to 8:30 am when they are most active. Some locations have tours during those times. So, set your alarm to go before the sun rises if you want to see the manatees.
Can you swim with manatees?
One of the most exhilarating experiences during your visit to Florida is to swim with the manatees!
However, as you’ll learn deeper into this article, you can’t swim or snorkel just anywhere there are manatees.
According to Captain Mike’s at Crystal River, Florida, it’s possible to get to swim with the manatees. But only if you are a local who knows where to go, what to do, and how to conduct yourself properly in the manatee’s habitat.
Swimming with the manatees requires planning and knowledge, including locating the right place to snorkel with them legally, bringing the right gear, and mastering manatee manners.
That said, once you find out where you can swim with manatees, you’ll need to set your alarm clock for sunrise.
You’ll want to be out there early in the morning when the tide is in and when there’s less people.
And, we found weekdays are also best time of the week to see the manatees as weekends are more crowded with people.
So, while you can swim with the manatees, it’s best for these gentle giants too not touch, pet, feed, molest or harm them.
Also, snorkelers should never pursue them nor block their transit routes. Just watch them.
And, if you have your underwater camera or GoPro outfitted with underwater videoing, you can record some great memories.
However, before donning your snorkel gear, you need to watch the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service video on Manatee Manners:
Check out this fun manatee gear:
Now that we’ve learned all about what manatees eat, how they behave, when manatees mate and have their calves, let’s now check out those best places to see manatees in Florida!
If you see a manatee in distress Or. to report an injured, harassed, orphaned or deceased manatee, call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission hotline at 1-888-404-3922 (FWCC). Cell phone users may dial *FWC or #FWC.
Why Crystal River is the best place to see manatees in Florida!
I’m a bit partial here saying that Crystal River, Florida is one of my favorite places to visit for a variety of reasons. Located on Florida’s Nature Coast, it has a lot of awesome eco-incredible stuff going on.
But, it’s also because of the star of the show; the Manatee! Crystal River is, hands down, the absolute best place to see the manatees in Florida!
The show begins when the aquatic gentle giants arrive in mid November at Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge to escape the cold Gulf of Mexico waters.
Crystal River is located in Citrus County about 90 minutes north of Tampa, on the west coast of Florida.
The headwaters of Crystal River are known as Kings Bay, where the water temperature is a consistent 72 degrees year-round.
Kings Bay hosts the largest aggregation of manatees in the entire world! In fact, Citrus County is known as the Manatee Capitol of the World! And it’s no wonder!
Kings Bay has more than 70 springs that produce about 240 million gallons of fresh water daily. The bay flows into Crystal River which discharges into the Gulf of Mexico.
Three Sisters Springs is the most beautiful spring system in Kings Bay and the most important for wintering manatees.
Shuttles to the Three Sisters Springs boardwalk are available daily but reservations are needed.
But, the reason why Crystal River’s Three Sisters Springs is my favorite manatee sighting location is it’s the only place you legally swim with manatees in North America!
However, while you can swim with the manatees, Crystal River NWR strongly urges swimmers and snorkelers to watch “Manatee Manners“ before initiating any recreation activity in Kings Bay.
For more information on the Refuge and manatees, visit U.S. Fish and Wildlife Refuge Crystal River.
Also, manatee sightings are often reported near the Chassahowitzka River boat ramp and feeding along the riverbank.
And, if you’re kayaking or canoeing, paddle to the Seven Sisters Springs or journey up Baird Creek to Maggie’s Crack, another beloved local spring.
And now you know why Crystal River is the best place to see manatees in Florida!
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See the Manatees at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park
Also in Citrus County near Crystal River, Homosassa Springs is another of the best places to see manatees in Florida by tour companies or nature guides.
The Homosassa spring system pumps 65 million gallons a day from three spring vents into the Homosassa River flowing to Homosassa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.
At Homosassa, visitors can see the manatees at the Park’s “Fishbowl”; an underwater observatory where you can get face to face with the manatees without getting your head wet.
Visitors can also take in their daily programs to learn about the manatee and how the Refuge and Rehabilitation Center helps injured or orphaned manatees.
And, the outdoor protected area, Blue Water, a freshwater spring under a natural aquifer that provides a nice warm and peaceful place for manatees to congregate.
See the Manatees at Blue Spring State Park
Over 600 manatees gather at Florida’s Blue Spring State Park from mid-November to March to escape the cold waters. This makes Blue Spring another of Florida’s best places to see manatees!
In fact, last count was about 624 according to Save the Manatee‘s 2020-2021 Manatee Reports. Visitors can get a great view of the gentle giants from the boardwalk along the St. John’s River to the headspring.
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See the Manatees at Destin
Wakulla River and the St. Marks River are great viewing locations to watch for manatees during the summer months.
The sea creatures oftentimes congregate at the headwaters in Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park throughout the year. They can be seen in the Wakulla River. You may also may score a manatee sighting at Miramar Beach.
See the Manatees at Everglades National Park
However, we noticed the manatee’s skin looks a little rougher and sadly scarred. We’re thinking it may be from the airboats zipping around the tributaries.
The visitor center is helpful for getting suggestions on the best places to view wildlife and has some interesting displays.
From the visitor center, just walk the short distance to the marina, where you can see the manatees sunning themselves. If you’re lucky, you may have one even come close to the dock to say hello.
See the Manatees at Fort Pierce
Fort Pierce is another of the best places to see manatees but this time on Florida’s east coast. It’s home to another group of manatees who make their way from the Gulf of Mexico up along the east coast to cooler waters.
So, you’ll need to check out the Manatee Observation and Educational Center in Fort Pierce.
As well, you can also see manatees at Moore’s Creek throughout the year. However, your best bet is to visit during winter time.
Where can you see the Manatees in the Florida Keys?
There are several locations for manatee sightings in the Florida Keys.
In the Middle Keys that encompass Islamorada, Marathon, and Big Pine Key, there’s a good chance to see manatees and their calves in the seagrass at the inlet at Lorelei’s Restaurant and Cabana Bar on the waterfront.
So, you can rent a kayak or bring your own and explore Indian Key Historic State Park and enjoy a sunset dinner to close your day.
In Key Largo, there are regular manatee sightings at the Pilot House restaurant, behind the Murray Nelson Government center and the Hampton Inn.
You can also get to see manatees while enjoying a beer at Sharkey’s Sharkbite Grill while looking out at the canal.
Or, I’ve heard you can grab some lunch at Skippers Dockside and sit along the rail bordering the canal. Both are located at mile marker 100 in Key Largo.
Islamorada Eco-Tours and Wildlife Displays offers great opportunities to see manatees, dolphins, sea lions, sting rays, crocodiles, birds and other wildlife. You can snorkel and swim the coral reef or end the day with an amazing sunset!
However, as mentioned earlier, the only place you can actually swim with the manatees is at Crystal River.
At the southern most Key, the West Indian Manatee claims the waters around Key West. I’ve learned that this particular breed likes warm, shallow water and can in fact die in water colder than 60 degrees.
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Can you see the Manatees in Jacksonville?
I’ve learned another of the best places to see the manatees is around the power plants in Jacksonville, Florida.
Where can you see the Manatees at Lee County Manatee Park?
Lee County Manatee Park in Fort Myers, Florida has a great viewing area for spotting lots of the sea mammals. Manatee Park is ideal refuge for the Florida Manatee because of the warm protected waters.
The park is located at Palm Beach Boulevard in Fort Myers.
Do know there’s a $2/hour or $5/day parking fee and a $10 for a Shuttle Van or $20 for a Tour Bus per visit (2022 prices).
Visitors can also rent kayaks or pick up souvenirs at their gift shop at the Manatee Kayaking Company. Group Tours and programs are available on request. Call (239) 690-5030 for more information.
And if you bring your own kayak, there is a kayak self-launch area.
See the Manatees at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge!
Manatees frequent Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge mostly during the Spring and Fall months.
Visitors can see these gentle giants best at the Manatee Observation Deck on SR 3 at Haulover Canal. Another manatee viewing zone is near the Bairs Cove boat launch.
Can you see the Manatees at Sarasota?
A few of the popular tour companies in the Siesta Key may get you a great view of manatees. However, never assume you’ll see them. It’s best to ask before booking your tour.
If you’re visiting off season or you prefer not to get into the water, Mote Marine Aquarium is a great viewing manatee viewing option.
Oh, and while you’re in Sarasota, if you’re into great seafood, drop into Walt’s Fish Market Restaurant and Tiki Bar at on the Tamiami Trail in Sarasota to get the best Grouper sandwich EVER!! (Speaking from experience).
TECO Manatee Viewing Center, Apollo Beach
Tampa Electric and Emera Company’s (TECO) Big Bend Power Station in Apollo Beach is an exceptional place where manatees gather. In fact, it’s one of the best places to see manatees in Florida and hike too!
Big Bend’s discharge canal is a state and federally designated manatee sanctuary that provides critical protection from the cold for these unique, gentle animals.
Visitors can hike the Manatee Viewing Center’s habitat loop trail; a winding route through natural Florida terrain to the wildlife observation tower.
You’ll definitely want to climb up the 50 foot high tower to get a fantastic view of the surrounding habitat and estuary below.
Tampa Electric’s Manatee Viewing Center is open from November 1st to April 15th from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm. The Nature Trail and Wildlife Observation Tower close at 4 PM.
See the Manatees at Weeki Wachee State Park!
Our last best place to see the manatees in Florida is Weeki Wachee State Park. And for good reason.
And even though we’ve not kayaked Weeki Wachee yet, we’ll take the Florida Rambler word in his article Weeki Wachee Springs: Kayaking, manatees and mermaids,
“You can see manatees at any point along the Weeki Wachee; sometimes there are manatees right at the springhead. Kayakers who start at the Weeki Wachee Springs State Park no longer paddle as far as Hospital Hole.”
How can we help keep the Manatees safe?
As visitors, we can help the manatees thrive by maintaining a healthy distance from them in their natural habitat.
When boating, stay in the deep-water channels whenever possible and follow the speed zones. And when in doubt, move slower.
Manatees can be severely and lethally injured by boat collisions. Avoid boating over seagrass beds and shallow areas, as this is where manatees feed, sleep and hang out.
Keep your trash in an enclosed bag or can on your boat and away from the water; making certain none of your trash exits the boat.
When fishing, never discard monofilaments fishing lines, hooks, any foreign matter or litter into the water.
If you see a manatee in distress or report an injured, harassed, orphaned or deceased manatee, call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission hotline at 1-888-404-3922 (FWCC). Cell phone users may dial *FWC or #FWC.
It’s a good idea to keep those numbers on your watercraft; including kayaks, paddle boards and canoes. Your call could be what saves a distressed manatee’s life.
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Final thoughts on where the best places to see Manatees in Florida
What do you think of our list of the best places to see manatees in Florida?
Doesn’t it make you want to go on a road trip or plan a trip down to the Sunshine State to see or even swim with them?
I promise, once you see the grace and grandois of these gentle chubby sea creatures, you’ll understand the allure.
If you have any other best places to see the manatees, we’d love for you to let us know in the comments so other readers can take note.
Are you a coastal traveler?
RVing to Florida or the Coast?
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