When the thermometer dips in the south — and yes, it does happen! — the waters’ temperatures dip as well, which means it’s time for manatees to make their annual migration (typically November–March) from their homes in Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina, and even Texas and Virginia, to Florida’s warmer waters and natural springs. And once manatees find the spot just right for them, they return to the same place annually. Sound familiar, snow birds?!
The reason manatees seek out the warmer waters is they cannot tolerate temperatures below 68 degrees for long periods of time — they’re susceptible to frostbite and hypothermia, also known as cold stress. When Florida’s gulf and ocean waters dip below 68 degrees, the manatees have another place they can go — the natural springs, which maintain a steady 72 degrees (or so) year-round.
Here, we take a look at some spots around Florida where you may just spot manatees in their natural habitats.
Blue Spring State Park, Orange City (between Orlando and Daytona Beach)
The park’s webcam shows if manatees are in the springs. During manatee season, the spring and spring run are closed to all water activities, including swimming and boating.
Manatee Lagoon, West Palm Beach
Hands-on exhibits to learn not only about manatees who winter here, but other natural wonders in the area, are available in this 16,000-square-foot educational space. A quick look at the Manatee Cam will show if manatees are in the area.
Manatee Observation & Education Center, Fort Pierce (between Cocoa Beach and West Palm Beach)
View manatees from the observation deck or go into the center to check out the touch tanks, interactive displays and aquaria to learn more about the area’s ecosystems and inhabitants.
Manatee Park, Fort Myers
Manatees are more apt to be in the park late December through February.
TECO Manatee Viewing Center, Apollo Beach (south of Tampa)
An observation deck and boardwalk provide terrific vantage points for viewing manatees in the waters warmed by the neighboring Big Bend Power Station. Webcams to the east and west provide different vantage points, right on your screen.
Three Sisters Springs, Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, Crystal River (about 90 minutes north of Tampa)
Crystal River is the only place in the world it’s legally permissible to swim with the manatees. If you’d rather stay dry, the observation boardwalk that encircles Three Sisters provides terrific viewing spots. During the winter months, loads of manatees can be spotted here, but a resident population of around 80 manatees call the area home year-round, providing spotting opps year-round, too.
For more on manatees and conservation efforts surrounding these gentle giants, please visit the Save the Manatee Club website.
Fast Facts About Manatees
- Manatees are herbivores, or vegetarians, and get fresh water from seagrasses and other aquatic vegetation.
- Manatees do not have any natural predators.
- It is estimated modern manatees have been in Florida’s waters for more than 1 million years.
- Under the Endangered Species Act, harassing or interfering with manatees can lead to heavy fines and even jail time.
- Look but do not touch — manatees are wild animals, after all!
- Never enter designated manatee sanctuaries for any reason.
- Avoid making noise or splashing when manatees are nearby.
- Use snorkeling gear when observing manatees in the water; SCUBA gear may scare them.
- Never feed manatees or give them water; they are wild animals.
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