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A Guide to Seeing Florida Manatees in the Wild

florida manatee
1 Mar 2019
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Southwest Florida is one of the best places to see manatees in the wild. These large, shy, and gentle creatures congregate in warm waters where there are lots of seagrasses. Along the shores of Sanibel Island, Captiva Island, and nearby Fort Myers, manatees can be seen fairly frequently especially during the winter months when they seek refuge in the area’s warm waters. 

About the Florida Manatee 

The West Indian manatee is most frequently found along the coastal waters of Florida and the Caribbean but can be seen as far west as Texas and north as North Carolina. Also referred to as sea cows, manatees prefer shallow, slow-moving waters of canals, estuaries, rivers, saltwater bays, and more. These creatures are threatened on the endangered species list, and although they have no predatory threats, boat collisions, loss of seagrass, and cooler waters are their biggest threats. 

Spotting Manatees

Manatees can swim underwater for up to 20 minutes, but they typically come up for air every three to five minutes. You can spot them underwater by the swirl patterns they create from the up and down paddle of their tail. While manatees are not harmful to humans and can sometimes be very friendly, it’s best not to touch them or get to close. 

Lee County Manatee Park

Lee County Manatee Park is a non-captive sanctuary for manatees due to the natural warm water released from a neighboring power plant. From late December through early February, it’s possible to see up to 100 manatees at this park. Because the waters can be a bit warm for manatees during the summer, sightings are much less common this time of the year. You can get a closer view of the creatures by renting a kayak at Manatee Park. 

Lover’s Key State Park

Lover’s Key State Park is a 712-acre park that features pristine beachfront, tidal lagoons, canals, and four barrier islands. Once the development site of luxury condo buildings, Lover’s Key State Park was saved and donated to the state of Florida as a refuge for animals and humans alike. The park offers five miles of bike trails, eight miles of hiking trails, picnic areas, 2.5 miles of beaches, and more. Manatees, as well as dolphins, gopher tortoise, various butterfly species, and alligators can be spotted from the park’s trails. 

J.N. Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge

Located on Sanibel Island, the J.N. Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge was established in 1945 and occupies one-third of the entire island. the 7,600-acre refuge is home to 51 species of reptiles and amphibians, 32 mammal species, and more than 270 species of birds. You can kayak, canoe, or paddleboard through the waters of Commodore Creek and Tarpon Bay to catch a glimpse of manatees. 

Manatee Eco River Tours

The Manatee Eco River Tours launch from Sweetwater Landing Marina in Fort Myers and cruise along the waters of the Caloosahatchee and Orange rivers. The manatee tours are typically offered between December and March when the manatees move out of the Gulf of Mexico waters. Each boat is equipped with propeller guards and all guides adhere to the no wake zone rules in place to protect manatees. Tours last about 2.5 hours and cost $25 for adults and $15 for children. 

Wildlife viewing in and around Sanibel Island is truly spectacular. Book your Sanibel Island vacation rental with us today. If you have any questions or need help planning your trip to Sanibel Island or Captiva Island, contact VIP Vacation Rentals directly. We’re happy to help.