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Florida's Manatee Hotspots: Where to See These Gentle Giants in the Sunshine State

Florida Wildlife Outdoor
by Jori Ayers Mar 12, 2024

Besides its beaches, theme parks, oranges, alligators, and 24/7 sunny weather, Florida is also known for its manatees (or, more colloquially, its sea cows). Encountering these gentle giants in person is a quintessential Florida experience, making it a must-do activity alongside enjoying the state’s attractions.

The Florida manatee is Trichechus manatus latirostris, a subspecies of the West Indian manatee (the other being the Antilles manatee, Trichechus manatus manatus). Manatees are indigenous to the waters of Florida. The Florida manatee faces numerous threats and is one of the most vulnerable in the state, so it’s important to know the dos and don’ts of manatee viewing. And when you do see them, you’ll fully understand just how special the animal is.

Adult manatees are usually up to 10 feet long from snout to tail and weigh around 1,000 pounds, but they can grow to over 13 feet long and weigh more than 3,500 pounds. Manatees have a lifespan of up to 50 to 60 years in the wild, and up to 65 years in captivity. There is one who beat that record: Snooty, who was the oldest recorded manatee in captivity, lived to 69 years old.

Where do manatees live?

Manatees dwell in various aquatic environments, including rivers, bays, canals, estuaries, and coastal areas. They navigate freely between freshwater, saline, and brackish waters. Florida’s estuaries, freshwater lakes, springs, and rivers have rich beds of seagrass and plentiful freshwater aquatic vegetation, which are the primary food sources for manatees and therefore the best places to see them.

Manatees can’t tolerate waters below 68 degrees Fahrenheit for long periods of time, so manatees migrate to warmer waters during winter to ensure survival. From April through October, manatees wander the coastal waters of Florida. However, as temperatures cool, they seek refuge in locations such as the freshwater Florida Springs, where temperatures remain consistent year-round.

Best time to see manatees

The peak time to see manatees is from November to March. While you can spot them in the summer, their wider range of territory means the Florida manatee population is more dispersed. For guaranteed sightings, it’s best to visit during the winter when they gather in their preferred warm spots, often forming large groups that are easy to spot.

Where to find manatees in Florida

Numerous locations in Florida offer opportunities to observe manatees. These gentle creatures can be found in the wild in various water bodies across the state, as well as in captivity.


  • Three Sister Springs: 917 Three Sisters Springs Trail, Crystal River, FL
  • Blue Springs State Park: 2100 W. French Ave., Orange City
  • Weeki Wachee, 6131 Commercial Way: Spring Hill
  • Silver Springs State Park: 5656 E Silver Springs Blvd, Silver Springs, FL
  • Chassahowitzka: 8600 W Miss Maggie Dr, Homosassa, FL

Beyond the springs

  • TECO Manatee Viewing Center: 6990 Dickman Rd, Apollo Beach, FL
  • Manatee Lagoon – An FPL Eco-Discovery Center: 6000 N Flagler Dr, West Palm Beach, FL
  • Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge: 1987 Scrub Jay Way #32782, Titusville, FL
  • Lee County Manatee Park: 10901 Palm Beach Blvd, Fort Myers, FL
  • Manatee Observation and Education Center: 480 N Indian River Dr, Fort Pierce, FL
  • Round Island Beach Park: 2200 South A1A, Vero Beach, FL

In Captivity

  • Walt Disney World’s Epcot Center: Bay Lake, FL
  • Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park: 4150 S Suncoast Blvd, Homosassa, FL
  • ZooTampa at Lowry Park: 1101 W Sligh Ave, Tampa, FL
  • Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium: 1600 Ken Thompson Pkwy Sarasota, FL
  • SeaWorld: 7007 Sea World Dr, Orlando, FL
  • Parker Manatee Aquarium: 201 10th St W, Bradenton, FL

Protecting Florida’s manatee population

You can kayak or swim with these gentle creatures in places around Florida. In some cases, you may not even be seeking the manatees out and will come across them naturally. While doing so, don’t touch or pet them, feed them, chase or disturb them, crowd or restrict them, excessively splash water, or separate a manatee from the group or its calf.

Make sure to follow leave no trace principles to protect manatee habitats. One step further, if you come across litter or debris in these areas, pick it up and dispose of it properly. Respect waterway signs near manatee habitats, and refrain from traversing through seagrass or shallow areas where manatees may reside.

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