Places to See Manatees in Florida
What Are Manatees?
Manatees are large, marine mammals that are closely related to elephants. They are herbivores and eat mostly seagrasses, but they will also eat algae, fish, and invertebrates.
Manatees can be over 13 feet long and weigh well over ½ ton (1300 lbs.). These mammals are slow-moving and gentle creatures. Sometimes called “sea cows”, manatees’ offspring are called calves. Babies are born underwater and pushed to the surface by the mother to take their first breath.
Where Do You Find Manatees
Manatees are found in warm, shallow waters in the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. They are migratory animals and travel up and down coastal waters looking for warmth. There are lots of places in Florida to see manatees because of our warm waters.
Manatees are social animals and live in groups of up to 20 individuals. Many times, when you see one manatee, look around and there are probably more. They are also very curious and will often approach boats and people.
The 10 best places in Florida to see manatees:
- Around Key West, Florida – Key West National Marine Sanctuary is located off the coast of Key West, Florida, and is a great place to see manatees in the winter months. The sanctuary offers boat tours and kayaking excursions that allow visitors to get up close to manatees.
From personal experience, we have frequently viewed manatees in the bay behind Hogfish Bar & Grill on Stock Island. They seem to hang around the boats anchored there where occasionally they are offered fresh lettuce.
We also regularly manatees behind what is called the Hurricane Hole just before you go over the main bridge to Key West. The manatees here seem to be year-round which makes Key West one of the best places in Florida to see manatees.
- Blue Spring State Park is located in Orange City, Florida, about 45 minutes north of Orlando. Blue Spring is home to a large population of manatees. Visitors can see manatees from the park’s boardwalk or from a boat tour.
- Crystal River is located in Citrus County, Florida, about a 90-minute drive north of Tampa and Clearwater Beach. Crystal River is known for its clear waters and abundance of manatees.
Visitors can see manatees from the shore near the Plantation Inn or at the Three Sisters Springs Park on the outskirts of downtown Crystal River. This is considered one of the best places in Florida to see manatees.
- Weeki Wachee Springs State Park is located in Spring Hill, Florida, just 30 minutes north of Tampa. Weeki Wachee is home to a large population of manatees and mermaids!. Visitors can see manatees from the park’s underwater viewing area and view fun water ballets by resident mermaids.
- Manatee Springs State Park: This park is located in Chiefland, Florida, which is less than an hour southwest of Gainesville. Manatee Springs has a large population of manatees. The Suwanee River borders the park. Visitors can easily see manatees from the park’s boardwalk.
- Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge: This refuge is located on the east coast of Florida, and is home to a large population of manatees. Visitors can see manatees from the refuge’s boardwalk or from a boat tour.
- St. Johns River runs through central Florida and is home to a large population of manatees. Visitors can see manatees from the shore or from boat tours offered by the many fish camps and marinas.
Just about anywhere from Palatka, Florida to Jacksonville you will find manatees in the bays and grass flats. The St. John’s River is one of the very few rivers in the country that runs north.
- Bahia Honda State Park is located in Bahia Honda Key, Florida, about 20 miles east of Key West. Bahia Honda and is a great place to see manatees in the winter months. The park offers boat tours and snorkeling excursions that allow visitors to get up close to manatees.
Bahia Honda is where our children and grandchildren learned about the shallow waters and the saltwater creatures that inhabit the grass flats and fish around structures.
- Homosassa Springs State Park in Homosassa, Florida is just a few miles south of Crystal River. Not only can you see manatees here, but there are multiple tours that allow you to swim with the gentle creatures.
Homosassa is one of the 10 best places to see manatees in Florida plus the park has many of the animals and birds you can find in Florida’s forests and streams. Great place for families.
- John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is located in Key Largo, Florida. and is a great place to see manatees in the winter months. Key Largo is the largest of the Florida Keys and there is plenty to do in the area.
We have written about John Pennekamp Park many times. It is unique because 74 acres of the park is underwater. The park offers boat tours and snorkeling excursions that allow visitors to get up close to manatees.
Why Are Some of the Best Places to See Manatees Found in State Parks?
Almost all the state parks where groups of manatees are found have springs. Springs flow at about 72 degrees year round. When waters in the Gulf or Atlantic Ocean cool below that, manatees instinctively wander back to the springs.
More Facts About Manatees
- Manatees are the only marine mammals that have a tail like a paddle.
- Manatees are migratory animals and travel up and down the coast following the warm waters.
- Manatees are social animals and live in groups of up to 20 individuals.
- Manatees communicate with each other using a variety of sounds, including whistles, squeaks, and chirps.
- Manatees are an important part of the marine ecosystem. They help to keep the seagrass beds healthy by eating the algae that grows on them. Manatees also help to disperse seeds of seagrasses.
- Manatees are currently listed as a vulnerable species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The main threats to manatees are habitat loss, boat strikes, and entanglement in fishing gear.
- There are a number of things that can be done to help manatees. These include:
- Protecting their habitat by creating manatee sanctuaries and reducing pollution
- Reducing boat strikes by educating boaters about manatees and how to avoid them
- Reducing entanglement in fishing gear by using gear that is less likely to catch manatees.
Things to Remember While at Places in Florida to See Manatees
Manatees are amazing creatures that are worth protecting. By learning more about them and doing our part to help them, we can ensure that they will continue to thrive in the wild for many years to come.
We are restaurant owners. At our waterfront restaurant in Clearwater Beach, one of our servers was studying to be a marine biologist. One day a manatee was on the grass flats behind the restaurant.
The future marine biologist fed the manatee fresh leaf lettuce from our kitchen. That became a ritual for all of our guests to see for a long time. NOTE – it is illegal to feed or molest manatees in any way! At the time we were unaware.
Manatees are truly fascinating creatures that are a joy to watch. If you are lucky enough to see a manatee in the wild, be sure to give it plenty of space and avoid touching it. Manatees mean no harm to humans ever.