Manatees roam the waters of southeast Florida from April through October -- but when things get a bit chilly, they head to places like freshwater springs, where the temperatures remain constant throughout the year.
It may not seem warm when you jump into a freshwater spring, but the water temperatures remain around 70 degrees, which is perfect for manatees who need that kind of warmth to survive.
Seeing a large number of manatees in one place is an amazing experience, but just remember these gentle sea cows are there for survival. Whether you're 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 produced several videos on interacting with manatees, whether it's by swimming/snorkeling, boating or kayaking. There's even information that's specifically for photographers and videographers.
I've embedded the videos at the bottom of the article, so be sure to take a look at those before heading out on your next manatee excursion.
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're 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 run is closed -- but 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 signs, a boat ramp, and a polarized viewer are located at the observation area.