Now that the weather has started to get a little cooler, the manatees are making their way back into the protection of warm water refuges. Manatees will roam the waters of the southeast during the months of April through October - but when things get chilly, they head to places like freshwater springs where the temperatures remain constant throughout the year. It may not seem warm when you jump in a freshwater spring, but the water temperatures remain around 70 degrees-- perfect for manatees who need that kind of warmth to survive.
Seeing a large amount of manatees in one place is an amazing experience, but just remember that they are there for survival. Whether you are on a solo kayaking trip or a manatee swim tour, always mind your "Manatee Manners"-- look, but don't touch. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has a great video on interacting with manatees. Click here to view it.
Ready to see some manatees? Here are five places to check out:
Three Sisters Springs, Crystal River - If you haven't been to Three Sisters Springs, you are missing out. It's a year-round favorite of mine and in the winter manatees come in huge numbers. Kayak or take a boat tour to the springs. I've counted over 100 manatees in the area at one time. With a concentration of manatees like this, you can imagine that there's also a large concentration of people. Remember, be respectful and observe from a distance.
Blue Spring State Park, Orange City - Blue Spring State Park gets my vote for the best "no boat needed" manatee viewing location. During manatee season, the spring and spring run are closed - there are several overlooks and boardwalks along the way. Make a day of exploring the park and watching the manatees. Bring your camera because there are great pictures to be taken and memories to be made.
TECO Manatee Viewing Center, Apollo Beach - Tampa Electric's Manatee Viewing Center is a designated manatee sanctuary where tons of manatees return annually to the warm discharge waters of the Big Bend Power Station. Viewing platforms, tidal walkways, and an environmental education center are located at this 50-acre facility.
Lee County Manatee Park, Fort Myers - Located across from Florida Power and Light and directly on the warm water discharge canal, Manatee Park is another wintertime haven where large concentrations of manatees can be seen. Several viewing areas, a butterfly garden, and picnic shelters are available.
Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Titusville - The Haulover Canal connects Mosquito Lagoon and the Indian River, and on the east side of the bridge is a manatee observation area. Viewing platforms, interpretive signage, a boat ramp, and polarized viewer are located at the observation area.