Florida on the go

Manatees take refuge in the warmer spring waters at Blue Spring State Park in Orange City. From mid-November to March, hundreds of manatees congregate in the spring.

It’s Manatee Season: How to Get a Close Look

Once temperatures drop, manatees fill the springs. The winter months in Florida are when manatees retreat from coastal waters into their warm-water safe havens like springs and the outflows near power plants. In places like Blue Spring State Park to the east and Three Sisters Springs to the west, hundreds of manatees can show up at one time depending on the temperatures. People can view manatees in the wild from a safe distance, and swimming and snorkeling with manatees is permitted in the Crystal River and Kings Bay area, the only part of Florida where this activity is allowed, according to the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission. When encountering a manatee, state and federal wildlife officials urge caution to avoid hurting or killing them, as human-related threats to their survival like boating collisions and entanglements in fishing gear persist. From Jan. 1-Feb. 12, FWC recorded 317 manatee deaths, more than triple the five-year average of 100 for that same period.

Know before you go

You can look at manatees from a distance, but don’t touch them, feed them or give them water, as this can change their behavior in the wild and cause them to lose their natural fear of humans and boats. Do not chase manatees. Give them enough space to move around. Avoid excessive noise and splashing. And if you swim or snorkel with manatees, use snorkel gear and float at the surface of the water for observation.

A classic Taste of Florida

Manatees, a federally and state-protected species, are one of Florida’s most iconic species. Adults can grow up to 10 feet long and weigh up to 800 to 1,200 pounds. Manatees are herbivores and eat up to 150 pounds of plants a day, which explains why some refer to them as sea cows. The manatee’s historic range is the Southeast U.S., eastern Mexico, Puerto Rico, the Bahamas and Central America, but Florida is the best place in the U.S. to see them, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

How to make the most of it

The peak season for manatee viewing is November through April. If you go to Crystal River to swim with manatees, early morning in the middle of the week is the best time, according to Discover Crystal River Florida, Citrus County’s tourism marketer. Many destinations known for their manatee populations offer ways to see manatees without swimming or snorkeling, including viewing areas.