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Sea Cows Swim South for Winter

Natural Manatee Habitats are Naturally Fun for Florida Families  

Winter is coming and, with it, thousands of migratory manatees seeking the warmer Florida waters; a yearly occurrence that presents a wonderful opportunity for families to observe these mellow giants in their natural habitat. Prepare to be captivated by their enormous size and gentle demeanor, as they slowly glide in herds through our shallow rivers, estuaries, saltwater bays, canals, and coastal areas ─ usually where seagrass beds flourish.

In spite of their size, manatees have relatively little body fat and their metabolic rate is low compared to other marine mammals: they need warm water to survive. According to Save the Manatee Club, during the summer months, manatees travel freely around Florida’s rivers and coastal waters, and sporadic summer sightings in Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina are relatively common as well.  A few manatees may even venture as far west as Texas and as far north as Virginia, but these sightings are rare. In the winter, usually November through March, the manatee population concentrates primarily in Florida. Scientists don’t know what cues manatees follow, but they seem to know when cold weather is coming and instinctively avoid it by seeking the warm water areas.

During the winter season, numerous local watercraft operators offer manatee tours through the backwaters of popular springs and rivers. Many of these providers rent canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards for a chance to float beside these slow-moving giants, but remember to keep a safe distance and not make any contact (as advised by conservationists). Blue Spring is a designated Manatee Refuge and the winter home to a growing population of West Indian Manatees. Visitors can get a great view of these seasonal guests from walk paths and viewing areas throughout the park. Or watch live streaming activity from the comfort of their own home at [See sidebar for additional habitat sites and upcoming events.]   “I took my daughters to Blue Springs last year and we saw a hundred manatees along the spring and spring run, several with their calves. We stayed for several hours fascinated with their interaction amongst each other. We are planning to go back this year and rent canoes for closer observation,” shares Eva Kelso, Publisher,

This season, aside from just enjoying manatee sightseeing at parks and aquatic centers, Central Florida families can Adopt-A-Manatee® through the Save the Manatee Club, a nonprofit focused on protecting manatees and their aquatic habitats for future generations. Of course, you won’t be able to personally house one as a pet… (family pools and retention ponds are not suitable); however adoptions will help these endangered animals live longer, healthier lives. Adopt-A-Manatee® can be a meaningful gift option for that ‘hard to shop for’ person on your holiday list! This unique gift keeps on giving throughout the year, says Janice Nearing, director of public relations for Save the Manatee, “Proceeds fund emergency rescue response for sick and injured manatees, in addition to waterway signage, public awareness/education, research, and more.”

Amy Senn, from the Twin Cities, adopted “Philip” from the Club’s Blue Spring State Park for her daughter Mia. “This is an awesome holiday gift because it’s meaningful, and it’s also a teaching moment for a child to help a species in need,” Senn explained. “Mia was thrilled because we both care about the manatees ─ they’re so sweet and harmless. It’s heartbreaking to hear about the high number of preventable manatee deaths each year.” Supporters can adopt a manatee for $25, and receive an adoption certificate, a photo of a real endangered manatee, a manatee biography (like that of Squeaky, Annie, or Rocket), a membership handbook, and regular newsletters.

Explore the “Cool Manatee Stuff” tab on to access manatee activity sheets, a manatee puppet craft, a 3-D habitat project, downloadable manatee melodies, and more.

Manatee Events

December 13

SMC Education Day

  • Blue Spring State Park, Orange City
  • 10 am – 3 pm

January 17 & 18

Florida Manatee Festival

  • Downtown Crystal River
  • 9 am – 4 pm

January 24 & 25

Blue Spring Manatee Festival

  • Valentine Park, Orange City
  • 10 am – 5 pm

February 21 

Orlando Wetlands Festival

  • Ft. Christmas Park, Christmas
  • 9 am – 3 pm

For complete details, visit

Local Manatee Habitats

Natural habitats:

Blue Spring State Park
2100 W. French Ave., Orange City, FL
(386) 775-3663

Manatee Guides & Nature Kayak Tours
8771 Estero Blvd., Fort Myers Beach, FL
(239) 247-4955

Tampa Electric Company Manatee Viewing Center
6990 Dickman Rd., Apollo Beach, FL
(813) 228-4289

Manatee Observation & Education Center
480 North Indian River Dr., Fort Pierce, FL
(772) 429-6266

Captivity habitats: 

SeaWorld Orlando
7007 Sea World Dr., Orlando, FL
(888) 800-5447

The Seas with Nemo & Friends at Epcot
200 Epcot Center Dr., Lake Buena Vista, FL
(407) 824-4321