Ask a local Floridian about their favorite native wildlife, and you’re likely to discover that gators aren’t near as popular with the locals as they are with the tourists. What residents of the Sunshine State do enjoy are the much friendlier manatee. If you’re visiting Florida between November and March, you have a great opportunity to see lots of manatee in their natural habitats all over the state.
When the air temperature drops after Halloween (yes, it gets chilly in parts of Florida), the water also gets colder, especially in the Atlantic Ocean and other large bodies of water. But Florida is full of natural springs, and the water in many of them is constantly in the mid 70s. When the big lakes, rivers and oceans get too cold, the manatee can be scene gathering in droves around the warmer water sources. It’s a beautiful, peaceful site that you can usually enjoy for little to no money. If you’re visiting Florida in the late fall, winter or early spring months (November to March), check out one of these local hot spots for manatee viewing.
3 Places To See Manatee in Florida
1. Blue Spring State Park
This state park is located just outside of Orange City, a small town halfway between Orlando and Daytona Beach. Entrance to the park for one vehicle with up to 8 people is only $6. However, there is a restriction on how many people can come into the park at once and this limit is often reached during manatee season. If you want to get in, arrive as close to the 8am opening time as possible. It’s not uncommon to see over 100 manatee at one time in Blue Spring State Park during the winter.
2. Manatee Observation & Education Center
The Manatee Observation and Education Center is a waterfront wildlife observation and nature education center in Fort Pierce, Florida. The viewing areas overlook the Indian River Lagoon, a saltwater estuary and Moore’s Creek, a freshwater creek. Moore’s Creek is a common gathering spot for manatee year round. Entrance into the Manatee Observation & Education Center is just $1 per person, but hours are limited to 10-5 Tuesday thru Saturday and 12-4 on Sunday.
3. Tampa Electric Company Manatee Viewing Center
Yes, an electric company has a manatee viewing center. It’s actually common in Central Florida because of the warm waters around the power companies. While many of the viewing areas around power companies are closed this year due to security concerns, the Tampa Electric Company is still providing free admission to their center in Apollo Beach, Florida. The free observation area is open from 10am to 5pm.
Be aware that it is illegal to approach or touch manatee, which are endangered animals. This basically means you need to stay out of the water when there are manatee present, because they are super eager to approach people. Should you find yourself in the water with manatee (it happens), rest assured that they are safe and will likely just nudge you with their whiskery noses.
All photos by Britt Reints