Where to See Manatees in the Keys
The Florida Keys are a paradise for nature lovers, and one of the most incredible creatures that can be spotted in these waters is the gentle and graceful manatee. These large aquatic mammals are known for their friendly nature and their love of warm waters. If you’re planning a trip to the Keys and want to catch a glimpse of these fascinating creatures, here are some of the best places to see manatees in the area.
1. Crystal River: Located on the Gulf Coast of Florida, Crystal River is famous for its large population of manatees. The Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge offers visitors the opportunity to swim and snorkel with these gentle giants. Manatee tours are available, allowing visitors to observe and interact with these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat.
2. Blue Spring State Park: Situated in Orange City, Florida, Blue Spring State Park is a popular spot to see manatees during the winter months. The park’s spring-fed waters provide a warm haven for manatees seeking refuge from the colder ocean temperatures. Visitors can observe manatees from the designated viewing areas or go kayaking in the park’s scenic waterways.
3. John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park: Located in Key Largo, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is a haven for marine life, including manatees. The park offers guided tours to manatee hotspots, where visitors can snorkel or swim alongside these gentle creatures. The clear waters of the park provide an excellent opportunity to witness manatees in their natural habitat.
4. Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary: Spanning over 2,900 square nautical miles, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is home to an abundance of marine life, including manatees. Visitors can spot manatees while snorkeling, diving, or kayaking in the sanctuary’s protected waters. Manatee sightings are common, especially around seagrass beds and mangrove areas.
5. Everglades National Park: While not directly in the Keys, Everglades National Park is a short drive away and offers an incredible chance to see manatees in their natural habitat. The park’s vast network of waterways is home to numerous manatees, and visitors can explore these areas through guided boat tours or by renting a kayak.
6. Marathon Key: Marathon Key is a popular destination for manatee sightings, particularly in the waters surrounding the Marathon Turtle Hospital. Manatees frequently visit the hospital’s rehabilitation facilities, and lucky visitors may even witness the release of a rehabilitated manatee back into the wild.
7. Bahia Honda State Park: Located on Big Pine Key, Bahia Honda State Park is renowned for its stunning beaches and crystal-clear waters. Manatees are often spotted in the park’s shallow waters, especially near the old Bahia Honda Bridge. Visitors can enjoy swimming, snorkeling, or simply relaxing on the beach while keeping an eye out for these majestic creatures.
8. Lignumvitae Key Botanical State Park: Situated on Lignumvitae Key, this state park offers visitors a chance to explore an ancient tropical hardwood hammock and spot manatees in the surrounding waters. Guided tours are available, providing valuable insights into the park’s unique ecosystem and its resident manatees.
9. Indian Key Historic State Park: Located near Islamorada, Indian Key Historic State Park is an island paradise home to a variety of wildlife, including manatees. Visitors can explore the island’s trails, kayak in the surrounding waters, or simply relax and enjoy the beautiful surroundings while hoping for a manatee sighting.
10. Robbie’s Marina: Situated in Islamorada, Robbie’s Marina is a popular spot to see manatees up close. Visitors can rent kayaks or book a guided tour to explore the nearby mangrove trails, where manatees often congregate. Additionally, visitors can feed tarpon and enjoy other water activities while keeping an eye out for these gentle giants.
Common Questions About Seeing Manatees in the Keys:
1. Are manatees endangered?
Yes, manatees are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.
2. What is the best time to see manatees in the Keys?
Manatees are more commonly seen during the winter months when they seek out warmer waters.
3. Can I swim with manatees in the Keys?
Swimming with manatees is a popular activity in certain designated areas, such as Crystal River and John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park.
4. Are there any regulations for swimming with manatees?
Yes, there are strict guidelines in place to ensure the safety and protection of manatees. Always follow the instructions provided by tour guides and respect the animals’ space.
5. Can I spot manatees from the shore?
While it is possible to spot manatees from certain shorelines, the best chance of seeing them up close is through guided tours or by exploring their known habitats.
6. How close can I get to manatees?
It is recommended to maintain a distance of at least 50 feet from manatees to avoid disturbing their natural behavior.
7. Is it safe to kayak near manatees?
Yes, kayaking near manatees is generally safe as long as you give them plenty of space and do not approach them too closely.
8. Can I touch or feed manatees?
No, it is illegal to touch, feed, or disturb manatees in any way. It is important to observe them from a respectful distance.
9. Are manatees dangerous?
Manatees are generally gentle and pose no threat to humans. However, it is important to respect their space and not to approach or harass them.
10. How long do manatees stay in the Keys?
Manatees can be found in the Keys year-round, but their presence may vary depending on the availability of warm water and food sources.
11. Are manatees active during the day or night?
Manatees are diurnal animals, meaning they are most active during daylight hours.
12. What other wildlife can I expect to see while searching for manatees?
While searching for manatees, you may also encounter dolphins, sea turtles, various species of fish, and a wide range of bird species.
In conclusion, the Florida Keys offer numerous opportunities to witness the beauty of manatees in their natural habitat. With proper guidance and respectful observation, visitors can have unforgettable encounters with these magnificent creatures while enjoying the stunning surroundings of the Keys.