While Florida is a major destination for summer vacations, winter may be the prime time to explore Florida’s waters. Between November and April, manatees gather in the Sunshine State to warm up during the colder months.
According to The Everglades Foundation, these gentle giants are typically 10 feet long and weigh around 1,000 pounds. They spend their days grazing on seagrass as they swim around leisurely at about 5 miles per hour.
If seeing these sea cows is on your bucket list, here are six of the best places in Florida to see these animals in action:
- Crystal River
Crystal River, Florida, is where many manatees call home. Visitors can kayak, paddleboard and swim with the manatees. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, Three Sisters Springs is where you can see the most manatees, as this is the most important waterway for these animals in the wintertime.
- Homosassa Springs
Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park offers visitors the chance to view these animals from a special perspective – inside the Underwater Observatory. According to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, you can walk beneath the water and watch as manatees swim by. You can also see other native Florida wildlife, including the Florida panther, whooping crane and alligator.
- Blue Spring State Park
This destination is along the St. Johns River where 485 manatees were seen in 2018, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. Blue Springallows visitors to kayak, canoe or go on guided boat cruises.
- Tarpon Springs
Between December and March, Tarpon Springs has clear kayaking tours where visitors can see manatees through the bottom of their kayaks. Tarpon Springs is also the sponge capital of the world and is known for its Sponge Docks, which has shops, restaurants and dolphin tours.
- Riviera Beach
Manatee Lagoon in Riviera Beach is an interactive center next to the Florida Power & Light Company’s natural gas plant. Manatees are attracted to the warm water that flows out of the plant, which inspired the creation of the center. The lagoon offers waterfront walks with manatee experts, a Lake Worth Lagoon Watershed exhibit and more.
- Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge
Near Cocoa Beach, Florida, manatees can be seen year-round from the Manatee Observation Deck at the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. This destination also has a visitor center that offers manatee programs in spring and summer.
Although manatees are no longer endangered, they are a threatened species that is protected under the Endangered Species Act, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services.
Before visiting these gentle giants in their natural habitat, it’s important to note that Manatees are protected by the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act. This prohibits onlookers from touching or disturbing them. If you decide to visit any of these destinations, stay a few feet back and admire these unique creatures.