Manatees are a large, slow-moving marine animals that lives in the shallow waters around the Florida coast and rivers. There are 3 species of manatees, the Amazonian manatee, the West Indian manatee and the West African manatee. Unfortunately, these fascinating herbivorous creatures are classed as an endangered species. The famous Florida red tide and collisions with boats are thought to be the most destructive reasons for their dwindling numbers.
If you are heading to Florida, now is a great time to try and see them, as they may not exist in years to come.
How to spot a manatee
At 8 to 13 feet long and weighing up to 1,300 lbs, you would think they would be easy to find. However, this is not the case. You need to be calm and patience to see these ‘sea cows.’
Manatees breathe the same air as us, so need to pop up to the waters surface. Although they can hold there breathe for up to 20 minutes, they usually take a breath ever few minutes. When they do this, their whole body doesn’t float to the surface making them an obvious target to spot. Instead, only their nose breaks the surface. If you are going on a manatee spotting trip keep a close eye on ripples in the water and if you are lucky you’ll see two large nostrils flaring to take in a breath. Don’t blink because you might miss it.
Manatees usually swim in pairs or small groups; therefore, another pair of nostrils will probably be visible soon after, but probably in a different place as they are excellent swimmers.
Now that you know how to spot one, it is time to discuss where you can see them.
Best place to see a manatee
Throughout the year one of the best locations to see a manatee is Crystal River, Citrus County, which is 2 hours drive from Orlando. Manatees like to swim in the warmer waters as cold water increases the chance of disease and Crystal River is usually a great temperature for them to enjoy life.
As you can probably guess by the name, Crystal River has very clear water. This makes it a great manatee spotting destination. As previously mentioned it can be hard to find a manatee but when they are in crystal clear water, their large grey body can be seen easily.
The calm shallow waters of the Florida coast are also good places to find a manatee gliding through the water or eating some greenery.
Swimming with manatees
There are multiple tour companies that can take you to a natural manatee habitant all around Florida. Registered and official manatee tours know the importance of cruising through the water at safe speeds, so as not to harm the manatees. Therefore, we advise that you don’t hire a speed boat and go on a manatee adventure yourself.
Some companies may even let you jump overboard and swim with them. If you want to take a dip with these cute animals here are a few tips to follow.
- Never touch a manatee. This includes stroking, hugging and riding them. Coming into contact with humans could change their innate behaviour making them think that humans are safe. We are not! It is also illegal to harass a manatee.
- Be quiet. Loud noises, like excited screams and scuba gear, will scare them away.
How can you help manatees?
If you want to help this endangered species you can. There are many conservation efforts working to prevent habitat loss, water pollution and rehabilitating injured manatees. Two possible ways to help is by adopting-a-Manatee with Save the Manatee Club and by volunteering at organisations, like Manatee Memorial Hospital.
Another way you can show your support, even as a non-resident of Florida, is to write to the Florida Governor and express your support of having and enforcing Manatee protection laws. If you would like to do this, click here. If you are a Florida resident and drive, you could purchase a ‘Save the Manatee’ license plate. Organised by the Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida, who work towards sustaining a manatee population.