Where and How To See Florida Manatees

Manatees are one of Florida’s most beloved creatures. They are playful, curious and very adorable. For most people, spotting a manatee in the wild is a highlight of their Florida vacation. Before you set out on an adventure to spot these gentle giants in one of the state’s many waterways, there are a few things you need to know.

A Florida Manatee surfaces for a breath of air underneath kayaks in Merritt Island, Florida.

What are manatees?

For the uninitiated, manatees are aquatic mammals found in warm, tropical waters. The West Indian Manatee, the species native to Florida and the Caribbean, are the largest in the world. They average 9-10 ft. in length and usually way 800-1,200 lbs. You’ve probably heard manatees referred to as “Sea cows”. They got this name because they feed on vegetation like sea grass and move slowly through the water. However, they are not related to the cow. Biologically, their closest living relative is the elephant.

When are the manatees around?

Manatees are in Florida waters year-round, but their location can vary depending on the time of year. Manatees are very sensitive to cold water and can get sick if exposed to temperatures lower than 68 degrees Fahrenheit. That means during winter, when the coastal waters cool down, they migrate south toward the Caribbean or inland to Central Florida’s many springs. Manatees have started to gather near coastal power plants because the facilities warm the nearby waters.

When is the best time to see manatees?

If you’re hoping to spot a manatee in coastal waters, now is a perfect time to start your search! Florida winters are mild, and the cool weather typically ends in March. This is when the manatees start to migrate back to Florida’s coasts. You should be able to spot individual manatees as they swim in search of their favorite sea grass beds to feed from. They will remain in the coastal area until the water cools down again in November.

How do I see a manatee for myself?

Manatee spotting is a patient game. Whether you are on the beach, in the springs or along the intracoastal waterway, manatees can be hard to spot if you don’t know what you’re looking for.  They can hold their breaths up to 20 minutes and will surface briefly to breathe. With a trained eye, you can spot “manatee footprints”; circular ripples on the surface of the water caused by a manatee swimming below. Or, you can take a tour with a local guide who knows a few secret spots for manatee viewing. BK Adventure offers daily tours departing from the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge that take you on a quest to find manatees and dolphins, another one of Florida’s fan-favorite creatures. Book at tour!

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