Visitors from around the world come to see one of the state’s most famous residents: the Florida Manatee. Whether you wish to watch manatees from the deck of a boat, the seat of a canoe, atop a stand-up paddleboard, or the shoreline of a scenic river or spring, Florida’s Adventure Coast is the destination for you.
Florida Manatees, sometimes referred to as “Sea Cows,” are found in freshwater, brackish water, and saltwater ecosystems throughout coastal Florida, especially here on Florida’s Adventure Coast, Brooksville – Weeki Wachee. They spend large portions of their day munching on aquatic vegetation such as seagrass, and frequently surface to breathe air through their nostrils. More than seagrass munching marine mammals, manatees are iconic, beloved symbols of natural Florida.
Situated on the Gulf of Mexico, Bayport Park offers manatee-spotters plenty of vantage points, a boat launch for paddlers and plenty of picnic spots. You can also spot them slightly further inland at Jenkins Creek Park and Linda Pedersen Park in the coastal waterways that connect to the Gulf of Mexico.
At Linda Pedersen Park, the 40-foot viewing tower offers a great way to scan the waters for the massive marine mammals and allows you to soak up the panoramic views of the Gulf of Mexico at the same time. For paddlers, the 1.7-mile Bayport-Linda Pedersen Paddling Trail connects Bayport Park and Linda Pedersen Park and offers the chance to catch glimpses of browsing manatees, along with dolphins, coastal birds, and other wildlife.
As the Gulf of Mexico water cools in the winter months, these warm-blooded mammals will move further inshore in search of warmer waters. Consistently warm temperatures often draw the creatures to Florida’s natural springs and spring-fed rivers, including Weeki Wachee Springs, where wild manatees are even known to share the stage with Weeki Wachee Springs Mermaids from time to time.
If you encounter a wild manatee, it is an unforgettable experience and an extraordinary way to experience Florida’s natural wonders. However, human engagement can potentially alter the behavior of wild manatees and put the gentle creatures at risk. During an encounter with wild manatees, it’s important to give the creatures plenty of space, never touch them and remember that it is illegal to harass them in any way.
EXPLORE WITH RESPECT
Read the Waters: Wear polarized sunglasses when boating to reduce the surface glare to help you see shallow areas and seagrass beds. Polarized sunglasses can also help you see and avoid manatees and underwater hazards.
Know Your Depth and Draft: When in doubt about the depth, slow down and idle. If you are leaving a muddy trail behind your boat, you are probably cutting seagrass. Tilt or stop your engine if necessary. If you run aground, pole or walk your boat to deeper water. Never try to motor your way out. This will cause extensive damage to seagrass and may harm your motor. Know the times for your low and high tides.
Study Your Charts: Use navigational charts, fishing maps, or local boating guides to become familiar with waterways. These nautical charts alert you to shallow areas so you don’t run aground and damage seagrass. Know before you go.
If you see a sick, injured, distressed, or tagged manatee, call the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Toll-Free Number 1-888-404-FWCC (1-888-404-3922). Scientists and volunteers can often successfully rescue and release these gentle animals back into the wild. Always be mindful of ‘no wake’ and ‘manatee zones’ and be mindful of the seagrass, the main ingredient in their diet.