Photo: Thierry Eidenweil /Shutterstock

The Dos and Dont's of a Manatee Viewing Expedition, According to a Tour Operator

Orlando Wildlife Outdoor
by Jori Ayers Feb 7, 2022

The West Indian manatee, which lives in Florida and is a Florida native mammal, isn’t extinct. However, the species faces many threats and is among the state’s most vulnerable. When in contact with a West Indian Manatee or any other manatee, people must be extra cautious and follow certain precautions. To educate their guests on manatees, Florida-based company Epic Paddle Adventures invites guests on tours to view manatees safely on a manatee Airbnb experience, with a goal to inform others about manatees and the threats they face. The hope is that through education comes a call to action, resulting in a general populace that is mobilized to sign the petitions when they circulate and vote for leaders who prioritize wildlife conservation.

In Florida, manatees are found in shallow, slow-moving rivers, estuaries, saltwater bays, and canals. “Manatee season” runs from mid-November through March, and can be later when the springs are warmer. Many environmental threats to the animals, such as pesticides and fertilizers, are harmful to the manatees’ food sources, which consist of plant life in the areas they live.

Epic Paddle Adventures gives guests an adventure plus an educational tour. The company spoke with Matador about how it demonstrates responsible manatee viewings through its manatee Airbnb experience and how this experience is beneficial both for their guests and the manatees themselves.

We hope you love the manatee excursion with Epic Paddle Adventures! Just so you know, Matador may collect a small commission from the links on this page if you decide to book a stay. Listed prices are accurate as of the time of publication.

Want to know more about manatees and take on a new adventure of seeing them? You can check out this manatee Airbnb experience.

MATADOR: How did you decide to create an experience around manatees and what has the response been so far?

Epic Paddle Adventures: The first time you see a manatee in their natural habitat, it is just magical. We definitely wanted to recreate that sense of wonder that we felt the first time we saw manatees in Blue Spring. We are “water people” to the core… we love everything about being on, in, and around water. Water, especially in an environment like Blue Spring has such therapeutic and healing qualities for your mind, body, and soul.

Manatees are calm and peaceful marine mammals that pose no danger to people. In fact, they are very curious about humans. Educating our guests on interacting with manatees has become one of our top priorities on our tours. We have been certified as Guardian Guides through the Save the Manatee Club and practice passive observation. Taking guests to see these wonderful creatures in their natural habitat and spend time with them on the water…that’s our idea of an excellent time! Our guests agree and usually say that it has been their favorite activity whilst in Orlando, maybe ever! Overall, it has been a wonderful experience for all involved.

Why is the location where you hold the event perfect for people to get to spot the animals, and what is the perfect location/habitat for manatees?

Blue Spring is a designated Manatee Refuge and the winter home to a growing population of West Indian Manatees. During “manatee season”, which runs approximately from mid-November through March, several hundred manatees congregate together in the spring run-up to the spring head. They choose this spot to warm themselves in the spring´s crystal clear, 73-degree water. The spring is connected to the St. John’s River, where we launch and paddle up the river a short ways to the spring, where we can encounter the manatees leaving and returning to the spring to feed. Manatees can be found in shallow, slow-moving rivers, estuaries, saltwater bays, canals, and coastal areas — particularly where seagrass beds or freshwater vegetation flourish.

What is the best thing you see when doing this experience with the manatees?

The best thing is the happiness, excitement, and joy on the faces of our guests when they see the manatees. People having a wonderful experience! Oh, and MANATEES!! We also get to observe Florida native birds, turtles, fish, otters, and alligators.

What should people expect when taking your tours to view the manatees?

For the manatee adventure, just like all of our other tours, we specialize in beginner-friendly tours and our staff is guest-centric! So, no matter the experience level, you will have a great time!

What would you like for guests to get out of this experience?

We would like our guests to be able to experience something that they have never done before, feel comfortable and have fun doing it. All while being able to encounter Mother Nature in all its glory!

What should you not do when coming into contact with a manatee?

People are not allowed to touch, feed or give water to manatees. It is against the law and it also encourages behavior that endangers manatees.

What are the best ways to view manatees and what are incorrect ways to view manatees?

We definitely feel the best way to view manatees is from a non-motorized vessel like a paddleboard or kayak, but we are a bit biased there. Incorrect viewing would be any way that would put manatees in harm’s way. An incorrect way to view a manatee would also be engaging in any behavior that disturbs or harasses a manatee. We are in their home and should be respectful of their peace and comfort.

What are your safety requirements when you take people to see the manatees, and how do you ensure animal safety throughout the experience?

We begin each tour with a safety briefing and educate guests on how to do passive observation. We do not crowd or rush toward manatees. We allow the manatees to observe us.

Are there certain behaviors that could throw a manatee off or seem like humans are a threat?

Yes, if you rush toward a manatee, that could make them uncomfortable. Also, putting your paddle in the water while they are close could scare them.

How can we protect manatees and educate others about manatees?

We are actually certified Guardian Guides by the Save The Manatee Club.

Save the Manatee Club’s Guardian Guides Certification is a voluntary recognition and education program offered to ecotourism providers in Florida that promote stewardship of manatees and their aquatic ecosystems. The goal of the Guardian Guides Certification is to eliminate to the extent possible disturbance to manatees from commercial manatee-viewing activities. Manatee-viewing tours can be a platform for education, appreciation, and conservation of this imperiled species. You can help foster these positive actions and prevent disturbance to manatees as a certified Guardian Guide.

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