Apollo Beach manatee viewing center

Manatees. The Florida state marine animal. Also known as a sea cow, these gentle giants make their home in Florida waterways.

There’s a special spot in Apollo Beach that welcomes the manatees each winter. And this year has been a doozy. While we haven’t had any extended freezes this year, we’ve had more than 16 nights with lows in 40s. We’ve had 31 days with highs in 60s. That means the Bay waters are cold for our beloved manatees.

Manatee center Apollo Beach

Manatees need warm water to survive. So during winter they flock to the Rainbow River, Blue Springs, Homosassa Springs, Weeki Wachee and TECO’s Apollo Beach power plant. Let’s take a look at one of our favorite places to see manatees in Tampa Bay: Tampa Electric's Manatee Viewing Center.

According to the center, when the water temperature of Tampa Bay drops below 68 degrees, the mammals gather in the clean, warm water discharge canal of Tampa Electric's Big Bend Power Station. It’s been recorded that the manatees have gathered in the canal since the early 1970s.

The center attracts thousands of manatees each year with its warm water expelled (safely) from the power plant in Apollo Beach. This year, 2024, the viewing center smashed their old record of manatees hosted at one time with more than 1,100 manatees. Last year was a record-setting year as well with around 850 at one time.

Apoolo Beach manatee viewing center

*Photo from Florida Wildlife Center

The manatee viewing center has been selected as one of the USA TODAY 10Best Readers’ Choice travel awards for best free attractions in 2023.

The viewing center is located in Apollo Beach and admission and parking are free. Visiting hours are from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day until April 15. The Manatee Viewing Center is at 6990 Dickman Road, Apollo Beach.

Manatees

The manatee viewing center has been selected as one of the USA TODAY 10Best Readers’ Choice travel awards for best free attractions in 2023.

The viewing center has several platforms where you can view the manatees (and sometimes dolphins). Visitors can also see and touch cownose rays in the viewing center’s touch tank. There is also a nature trail, butterfly garden, manatee movie, 900-foot-long tidal walk and 50-foot observation tower.

A few fun facts about manatees:

  • Manatees are native to Florida
  • They are on the federal endangered species list
  • Today there are estimated to be over 6,300 manatees in Florida waterways. Back in 1991, there were estimated to be only a little over 1,200.
  • Manatees often swim in water less than six-feet deep, where underwater vegetation is most abundant
  • Adult manatees are typically 9-10 feet long from snout to tail and weigh around 1,000 pounds
  • A manatee can move each side of its lip pads independently. This flexibility allows the manatee to "grab" aquatic plants and draw them into its mouth
  • Manatees do not have eyelids or eyelashes. Their eye muscles close in a circular motion, much like an aperture on a camera
  • Manatees can hear very well despite the absence of external ear lobes

 

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