Where to See Manatees

View AnimalTourism.com Manatee in a larger map See more information on each of these places here.

MANATEES TODAY: current situation and conflicts

All three species of  manatee (West Indian, West African, Amazonian) are endangered. The manatees in the U.S. are Florida Manatees, a subspecies of the West Indian. The rough aerial counts by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission show the manatee population at about 4,000 and probably increasing. But the surveys--taken from the air when the manatees huddle near power plants to keep warm in the winter--are imprecise.


Christopher Columbus thought manatees were mermen. Settlers thought they were easy to catch for meat and leather. Mostly that was for slaves or workers, though it could be found in Florida restaurants as late as the 1960s. Around the world and in the Caribbean people still poach the manatee for food. Fishermen in Belize would kill manatees with harpoons and clubs, then celebrate because it was considered non-fish meat, Angel Nunez writes.


Manatee's biggest threat in the United States is boat traffic. Cathy Becks, a wildlife biologist for the USGS, systematically identifies manatees by their boat scars. About one-quarter of all manatee deaths are caused by boats. Save the Manatee thinks the number is higher because so many are found as rotting carcasses and labeled as an indeterminate cause of death.


Manatees' other big cause of death is cold stress if the water temperature dips below 68. They need to huddle near the shore in winter, preferably near other manatees and some warm run off from a hot spring or power plant.


Manatees can live up to 50 or 60 years. The closest relationships are between the mother and calf. Males form a "mating herd' that chases females ready to reproduce.The population, which is divided into four distinct groups that winter in different areas, seems to be on the rise and lone manatees now venture north as far as Cape Cod and west to Texas almost every summer. But they can run into trouble when there's a cold snap says Dr. Ruth H. Carmichael, senior marine scientist at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab near Mobile, AL, where she has tagged manatees in the summer. Two manatees died trying to overwinter there in 2008; a third survived by lurking near a power plant.


In September 2009 the Obama administration signaled they would consider the requests of conservation groups and expand areas considered "critical habitat" for the manatee. Federal workers have sued the FWS to do a better job policing manatee tours, which have been caught on tape harassing manatees.


Please, don't pet the manatees. Avoid the splashy tours that promise to let you play with manatees. There's a big controversy brewing about manatee tours around Crystal River, FL, that harass and corner manatees and even let patrons kick or sit on them.

You can't reach out and touch them. If you stay calm and still, they'll probably come up to you.

Manatee supporters want the FWS to start enforcing rules for manatees, which are protected both as an endangered species and a marine mammal. The FWS has some manatee manners tips. Don't be tempted to offer food or fresh water from a hose. That teaches them to hang out near docks, where they get run over by boats.

While everyone with a boat or dock in Florida may boast of seeing manatees, your best bet is to go to one of the power stations in winter--especially during one of Florida's cold spells. 

Manatees are amiable and curious.


* Ask them if you're allowed to touch or approach a manatee.
* Is their website all about party and adventure?
* Do they show pictures of people petting, kissing, tickling, riding or otherwise molesting manatees?
* Look for a small operation and small boat. While it's better for whales if everyone is on one big boat, it's better for manatees if there are small boats and small groups, where the mob mentality hasn't taken over.



Is the manatee like a seal?

No, they're closer to an elephant than an elephant seal. Also known as sea cows, manatees are like cows in that they graze and have huge bellies to hold their digestive systems. They're not fat.

What do they need to survive? They eat sea grass, aquatic plants, algae and mangrove leaves. They are born underwater, but need to come up to the air to breathe. The Florida manatee can live in salt, brackish or fresh water, but needs to drink fresh water and seek out even small drips of non-salty water.

How big are they?

Up to 2,000 pounds, but about 1,000 and 10 feet is average. Females are bigger.

What's the difference in the manatee species?

Mainly where they live--both on which continent and whether in fresh or sea water. The Florida manatee has nails on its flippers and can swim in salty or fresh water. 



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Florida - See other animals in Florida


Crystal River

400 manatees winter here, so  it's a big tourist destination. Some tour operators have been caught on film harassing manatees to please tourists. Still, even Save the Manatees says the tours are worthwhile because they create manatee advocates. The kayakers bother manatees less than the "swim with" tours.

Nature Coast Kayak Tours

Local Tracy Colson volunteers rescuing manatees and won an award from Save the Manatee for her work documenting harassement and campaigning to end it.

The three hour tour is $40. (352) 795 - 9877

Manatees in Paradise Husband and wife, Captain Mike and Stacy Dunn, help with manatee rescue and bay clean up. Their pontoon boat only holds up to six. $25 per person, plus wet suit rental. 1223 North Crystal Drive, Crystal River, FL 352-563-0865 cell 352-601-5520

Native Vacations comes highly recommended by Passport Magazine. Dedicated manatee lover Traci Wood offers private 6-hour snorkel tours ($400 for up to 4 people) or $35 (plus equipment fees) 3-hour tour. 547 W Fort Island Trail, Crystal River

Nature's Connection Capt. Hank rides with up to 12 on 3 1/2 hour tours. $50 including wet suit.
267 N.W. 3Rd. St. Crystal River, FL. capthankstours@yahoo.com 352-697-0220
Aardvark’s Florida Kayak Company Save the Manatees works with wildlife biologist 707 N Citrus Avenue, Crystal River, FL (352) 795-5650 info@FloridaKayakCompany.com
Adventure Outpost Lars Andersen, who writes guides on paddling and the area, leads kayak tours of many waterways. $39 386-454-0611
Wild Florida Adventures Brack Barker used to be a parks ranger and enforcement officer.
Williston, FL (352) 528-3984

Tampa Electric Manatee Viewing Area - NW FL

Manatees need warm water, so they are attracted to the Tampa Electric Company plant.  The company set up a Manatee Viewing Area to accomodate animal tourists. The manatee season here is Nov. 1-April 15. Up to 300 manatees come here when the bay is cold. Here's where you make reservations. 6990 Dickman Rd., Apollo Beach, FL (813) 228-4289


Suwannee River - NW FL

According to MYFWC, manatees sometimes visit the giant, giant, warm swimming hole fed by a hot spring at  Fanning Springs State Park. They particularly like Big Fanning Spring (the big swimming area), MYFWC says, but you have a chance of seeing them all along the river--especially where there is naturally occurring warm water. Another good spot is the Lower Suwannee NWR--though that's more focused on hunting than wildlife watching.

You can rent kayaks at the park.
18020 N.W. Highway 19
Fanning Springs, FL (352) 463-3420



Blue Spring State Park - NE FL

Blue Springs State Park is a refuge for West Indian Manatees, who spend the winter in the park. They arrive in mid-November and enjoy the waters that stay at a constant 72 degrees, then take off at the end of March. Visitors have spotted 250 manatees in the park, which is where rehabilitators have released manatees. Rangers recommend visiting on cold winter mornings for the best chance to see manatees. 2100 W French Ave., Orange City, FL (386) 775-3663



Merritt Island NWR - NE FL

The Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge has a manatee observation deck over the Old Haulover Canal, which cuts through Merritt Island. The refuge is also home to, or at least visited by, sea turtles, wood storks and alligators. According the the refuge, alligators like the freshwater ponds behind the Visitor Center. They're easier to see in cold weather because they have to bask in the sun to stay warm.
(321) 861-0668


Lake NWR - NE FL

Lake Woodruff is another manatee winter hideout. The wildlife refuge has 23 miles of manatee protection zone.

2045 Mud Lake Rd., DeLeon Springs, FL  (386) 985-4673




St. Mark's NWR - FL Panhandle

St. Mark's NWR, on Florida's panhandle, gets manatees in the summer, from April to September.

Bonus Species: Woodstork, Sea Turtles (Loggerhead, Leatherback, Green)
The visitor's center is by the lighthouse.
(850) 925-6121



Fort Pierce - SE FL

The Manatee Observation and Education Center in Fort Pierce lets you see wild manatees in Indian River Lagoon and Moore's Creek. You may see manatees from the first or second story decks. There's an admission, but it's only $1. The Ft. Pierce Utility Authority supports the center, which works with local schools. They offer a $19 boat tour of the river.
Bonus Species: Dolphins and Pelicans
(772) 466-1600 ext. 3333



Sanibel Island - SW FL

Sanibel Island has a few places to see manatees. Ask a local for their favorite spot. Manatees are found on the nearby Island Bay NWR (boat only and you can't go on the islands), Pine Island NWR, and J. N. “Ding” Darling NWR and its offshoot, Matlacha Pass NWR
Island Bay, Matlacha & Ding (239) 472-1100
Bonus species: woodstork, osprey, sea turtle



10,000 Island NWR SW FL

Even though part of the 10,000 Island NWR is on the mainland, you have a better chance of seeing a manatee in a small, slow boat.
(239) 353-8442
Bonus Species: Wood Stork, White Pelican, Sea Turtle (loggerhead, green, and Kemp's Ridley).


Manatee Park - FL - Southwest
In the winter manatees seek out the warm water that is heated by the discharge from the nearby Florida Power and Light. You can see them at Lee County's Manatee Park, which runs along the power company's discharge canal. Manatee season is Nov.-March. The park is open 9-4. Here's a park brochure.
10901 State Road 80 (Palm Beach Blvd.) Ft. Myers, FL (239) 690-5030
south South - See other aninals Down South
Mobile, Al, Meaher State Park

About 20 endangered manatees spend their summers in Mobile Bay, according to Dr. Ruth Carmichael, senior marine scientist at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab. According to this map of sightings, the manatees seem to like this industrial shipping canal, Meaher State Park and Terry Cove near Orange Beach, but they're all around the edges of the bay and even up into the rivers.) If you see one be sure to help out report it to (866)-493-5803 or manatee@disl.org 

Meaher State Park (251) 626-5529


Savannah, GA

Manatees migrating north in the summer often visit the Savannah area's rivers and marshes. You may see them on Blackbeard Island NWR, which you can only visit by boat, or the Savannah NWR, which is on the river that borders South Carolina, or Harris Neck NWR, south of the city. (912) 652-4415

Cumberland Island - GA
Manatees only come up to Georgia in the summer. They're much harder to see then because they're more widely dispersed. But people do report seeing them off Cumberland Island especially near the Dungeness dock.
Brunswick, GA
Brunswick, GA, has high traffic in migrating manatees in the summer, researchers found. As a result, boaters in the Golden Isles are warned to look out for them, wearing polarized sun glasses if possible.

Pascagoula, MS

A few manatees have been spotted in Mississippi, presumably migrating all the way from Florida to spend the summer here. Pascagoula is one of the few spots that's had consistent sightings, according to this map put together by the Mobile Manatee Sighting Network. Dr. Ruth Carmichael, senior marine scientist at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab is figuring out where the manatees go on the coast.  If you see one be sure to help out  and report it to manatee.disl.org 

northeast Northeast - See other animals in the Northeast
Manatees Visit Dennis, MA
Two manatees visited the same harbor in Cape Cod a year apart. In 2008 a young, skinny manatee later named Dennis visited the harbor, a record for a northbound migrating manatee. He stayed into October and a rescue attempt failed.
In 2009 Ilya, a hefty, 16-year-old manatee visited the harbor as well.
Cathy Beck, wildlife biologist for the USGS, says manatees are probably finding the place because they can detect tiny differences in water salinity and temperature. You're probably not going to see a manatee here, but you can see the $2,000 tombstone that a teenage girl raised $2,000 to erect to honor Dennis.
Latin America Latin America -- See other animals in Latin America

Vieques, PR

Puerto Rico is the only place in U.S. waters you might see Anitillean Manatee, which is the other subspecies of the West Indian Manatee. The ones in Florida are called, appropriately enough, the Florida Manatee.
Not much difference--mainly where they live--but they are separate populations (for now).
The manatees are benefitting from all those years people were kept off Vieqes (except for the bombers). You can get to Vieques by plane or ferry.
Here's a map--watch out for ordnance in the closed areas. 787-741-2138


La Parguera, PR Puerto Rico

Antillean Manatees live on the south part of the main island of Puerto Rico. La Parguera, a small fishing village, gets them. Check out the Parguera Natural Reserve and the canals. This town is also special because it has a bioluminescent bay.


Chiapas, Mexico

Antillean manatees live about 100km inland in the Catazajá wetlands, according to Tropical Conservation Science. The manatees are seen more often in the permanent lagoon area in the south west of the wetlands.


Xcaret, Mexico

Quintana Roo has one of the biggest populations of manatees in Mexico, about 100, especially around Bahia de Chetumal, Laguna Guerrero and Rio Hondo, according to this CEP report. The Cancun region also has swim with manatee programs--highly unusual and unsavory for such an endangered species. The eco park in Xcaret has manatees in a tank, but says they were rescued.



Jamaica Jamaica

Not many manatees still survive in Jamaica--mainly due to hunting, boat accidents and habitat loss. The National Environment and Planning Agency recommends these spots for sightings:
Yallahs, Port Morant  (St. Thomas)
Old Harbour, Hellshire (St. Catherine)
Farquhar's Beach, Jackson's Bay (Clarendon)
Alligator Pond, Gut River (Manchester)
Black River, Parrotee (St. Elizabeth)
St. Mary's Wharf (Westmoreland)
Bloody Bay (Hanover)
Oracabessa, St. Margarets Bay (St. Mary)
Half Moon Bay (Trelawny)
An historical survey by the CEP says St. Elizabeth and Manchester had the most.



Southern Lagoon, Belize

Belize is a tiny country with a relatively big manatee population--now that people have (mostly) stopped eating them.
United Nations Environment Program says that the mangroves, swamps and rivers make this an ideal habitat.

Manatees help support a healthy eco tourism industry here, with many tours specifically to see the sea cows, such as Manatee Lodge



Tortuguero National Park, Costa Rica

Tortuguero National Park has Costa Rica's biggest manatee population, according to the UNEP. Though even here they are rare and diminishing.



Honduras has a small population of manatees living all along the coast, according to research by Lorma Linda University. One of the biggest concentrations is at Cuero Y Salado Wildlife Refuge. The other is by La Mosquita close to Nicaragua.

Puerto Nariño - Colombia

Amazonian manatees are found near Puerto Nariño near Tarapoto Lake. In 1998 a young mantee later named Airuwe (from the local language) was caught in fishing nets. Everyone pitched in to save him. The mayor let him live in his family drinking water tank; soldiers volunteered for shifts bottle feeding him. And eventually he grew up and was released in 2002. 

Mamirauá Reserve - BRAZIL Brasilia
You're going to have a hard time seeing the endangered Amazonian manatee which likes remote, dark backwaters of the Amazon. The Peixe-boi (Fish Ox) is the smallest surviving manatee; it lives in freshwater, lacks flippernails and has a white tuxedo chest. Brazil's Mamirauá Reserve is where the manatees--known locally as or fish ox--stay during the rainy season, when the area is like a lake. In dry season, they move to the actual Lake Amanã.
Africa Africa

Lake Volta - GHANA

A small population of West African manatees got trapped inland when a dam created Lake Volta in 1964. Researchers have only recently started studying whether the population is viable. On the plus side, the man-made lake has provided mangrove food and restricted boat speeds. Several tour groups visit the area.

Quicama Parque Nacional - ANGOLA
Kissama National Park is one of the few places you might see an African Manatee. But research is just beginning on the African manatee and where it likes to live. This park is being resupplied with wildlife after decades of war. Unfortunately, nobody has any manatees to spare.
Tourists are starting to check out Angola again, the Independent reports.

Warri and Kainji - NIGERIA

Endangered West African Manatees spend time near Warri and Kainji in the Niger and Benue Rivers, especially in the rainy season Melford Ita wrote in Science in Africa. It's known as mami water or mermaid. Officials are trying to curb its use as bush meat and promote their helpfulness  in eating aquatic weeds.

Got a place to see manatees in the wild? Tell us.


How is this animal doing?
Viewing Tips
Best Locations List
friends of the dolphin
My FWC Manatee Viewing Guide (This Florida agency counts manatees.)
Save the Manatee Club
U.S. Geological Survey (They study and ID manatees)
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (They protect manatees)
Satellite tracking manatees
Manatee Individual Photo ID System (They ID and track manatees by boat scars.)
ARKive Map of Threatened Marine Mammal Species
Smithsonian Marine Station at Fort Pierce
TerraMar Research
Trans-Species Institute for Learning
Dauphin Island Sea Lab (Mobile, AL)
Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge
Defenders of Wildlife
Earth Island Institute
World Wildlife Fund
Ocean Care
National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association
wildlife reading
Manatee Viewing Guidelines
Wildlife Managers to Take New Look at Manatee Habitats
Kayak with the Manatees!
Manatees and Watersports Don't Mix

Researching Manatees in West Africa

Survey Says: Threats Still Loom for Manatees
Manatee Mortality Statistics





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