September 22nd marks the first official day of fall and that means it’s almost migration time for many animals in the wild. This time of year is especially crucial to our favorite Florida species, the manatee. Come wintertime, manatees living along the Florida coast will begin to move inland.
So, where do they go? Why do they migrate? Just read on to explore the answers to these questions, plus get insight into the best winter spots to see the lovable sea cow!
Where do they go?
Beginning in mid-November, Florida manatees seek out more comfortable places to stay for the duration of the winter months. They have been known to hide out in bays, rivers, freshwater springs, and other pockets of inland water. They travel to these areas through rivers and canals. Because of this, it’s very important that boaters and personal watercraft users are cautious and slow their speed to avoid harming migrating manatees.
Manatees have also been known to gather near power plants that warm the surrounding waters through discharge canals. In fact, power plants have played a major role in recent efforts to protect manatee populations and provide the warm water they seek out in the colder months.
Through documentation and tracking, it is has been found that many manatees will return to the same warm water refuge each year. These refuge areas, often fresh water springs, are generally the only place where large amounts of manatees gather. They do not normally travel in groups during the summer months.
Why do they migrate?
Manatees can weigh up to half a ton and grow to 13 feet long, however even with all that weight, they have relatively little body fat. Because of their body’s design, manatees need warm water to survive and cannot tolerate long periods of time in temperatures below 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Cold stress can be fatal for manatees, so it is important that they find refuge in a warmer body of water. They often remain inland until spring arrives, normally in March, and will then return to coastal waters.
While Florida is home to a full-time residence of at least 3,000 manatees, the population of manatees that reside in more northern states, such as Georgia and Alabama, will join the Florida manatees for the winter months.
Best winter spots to see the sea cow
If it’s too cold for you to swim in the ocean, it’s probably too cold for the manatees too! That doesn’t mean you have to miss out on seeing them in the winter months! There are many parks in Florida with top-notch natural waterways that manatees flock to each year. Take a look!
- Blue Springs State Park: Located in Orange City, just a short drive from the New Smyrna Beach area, Blue Springs features gorgeous, clear 72-degree waters perfect for the Florida manatees. Hundreds of them make Blue Springs home for the winter and the park provides multiple overlooks so you can get a clear view of these gentle giants.
- Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge: This wildlife refuge, located in the town of Crystal River, is the only refuge created specifically for the protection of the Florida manatee. Here, you can view manatees from above the water’s surface and from underwater with a guided snorkeling tour!
- Ball Wakulla Springs State Park: Located near Tallahassee, Wakulla Springs is the world’s largest and deepest freshwater spring! Here, you can take a glass-bottom boat tour and get a clear glimpse of the manatees that are enjoying the year-round 70-degree water!
- Fanning Springs State Park: Located on the Suwannee River, Fanning Springs produces around 65 million gallons of 72-degree water per day! The manatees of course love this and you may be able to catch a glimpse of the creatures on the overlook that gives a full view of the springs, as well as the spring’s boil.
- Manatee Springs State Park: This park is located west of Gainesville and named after the gentle giants that call this spring their winter home. Manatee Springs State Park offers an 800-foot boardwalk that overlooks the gorgeous spring and is sheltered by the surrounding cypress forest. Keep an eye out and you might spot a sea cow as you canoe or kayak through the pristine waters.
- Craig Park: Overlooking Spring Bayou, this serene park located north of St. Petersburg is the perfect spot to relax, have a picnic lunch, and hopefully catch a glimpse of the beloved manatee!
The month of November will be here soon and many of Florida’s springs will be populated with the famous Florida sea cows. However, not all Florida wildlife retreats inland! In fact, many of the bird species, as well as marine life populate the coastal areas of Florida in the winter time because of its tropical southern waters. That means a peaceful fall time cruise is the perfect activity to get your nature fix!
Our two-hour guided boat tours will get you up close and personal with the native Florida wildlife that calls the Florida coast its year-round home. You’ll be delighted to spot a playful dolphin or a migrating flock of seabirds. The cooler weather may not be for the manatees but can provide a more comfortable outdoor boat ride for you!
With three options of cruises to choose from, we have a tour for all interests and budgets. Contact us today to learn more about how you can experience a nature-filled day for you and your family aboard The Manatee!