Finding manatees in Florida Keys can be a challenge, but your chances of seeing these gentle and lovely creatures are substantially higher if you’re in the islands!
You’ll probably understand why manatees are called “sea cows” after seeing one in person; these slow-moving grazers may weigh up to 1,000 lbs and reach heights of 10 feet. According to National Geographic, manatees are typically observed alone, in pairs, or tiny groups of no more than six creatures.
The animal’s snout and nostrils are frequently the only parts of it that are visible from above the water’s surface. Although manatees never leave the water, they must come to the surface to breathe because they are marine mammals.
A manatee may stay underwater while resting for as long as 15 minutes, and while swimming, it needs to come to the surface every three to four minutes.
The Best Time To Spot Manatees In Florida Keys
Manatee sightings in the Florida Keys are possible throughout the year, but the winter offers the most opportunities. Manatees move south or to natural warm springs to spend the winter when the water temperature falls below 68 degrees.
Manatees can swim freely in Texas, Virginia, and Massachusetts during the summer. However, according to Swimming With The Manatees, they swarm to Florida in great numbers throughout the winter to take advantage of the warmer waters released by springs and power plants.
Manatees migrate to warm water springs when the Gulf of Mexico’s water temperature dips to 55 to 65 degrees because the cold stresses them out.
Top 10 Locations Where You Can See Manatees In Florida Keys
Cow Key Marina
In Key West, Cow Key Marina is the best place to see manatees. Manatees are known to frequent the area. Therefore, you’ll almost certainly see one there.
The marina is home to numerous resident manatees, many of which have endearing names like Marshal, Big Moe, Speedy, Pete, and Little Rich. They are all given names based on their distinctive characteristics.
Get out on the water itself to get the greatest view of them. Either sign up for a stand-up paddleboarding excursion or attempt a kayak tour to explore the neighboring mangrove wetlands and spot the majestic creatures.
Sharkeys is situated on a canal with a history of manatee sightings. Take a tour around the canal docks if there aren’t any right in front of Sharkeys; you might find one, two, or three there!
Sharkeys is also a fantastic spot to have food and drinks and to get your catch cooked!
Dry Tortugas National Park
If you have time, visit Dry Tortugas National Park to watch manatees. You can reserve a boat from Key West to travel to Dry Tortugas. During the breathtaking 2.5-hour trip, you might pass manatees, sharks, rays, and sea turtles.
If you enjoy history, white sand beaches, turquoise waters, and marine life, this national park, made up of a collection of islands, is the ideal day excursion from Key West.
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, the country’s first underwater park, spans roughly 70 nautical square miles.
While the upland portions of the park’s mangrove swamps and tropical hammocks provide tourists with a unique experience, the coral reefs and the marine life that lives there draw most visitors.
Manatees can be spotted in John Pennekamp State Park’s bay and mangrove channels. Additionally, they rent out kayaks and paddleboards.
Cudjoe Gardens Marina
At MM 21, on the lovely island of Cudjoe Key, there is a family-run eco-friendly marina called Cudjoe Gardens Marina.
The marina is well situated for exploring the keys, halfway between Key West and Marathon, with quick access to the Atlantic, the Gulf of Mexico, and the backcountry.
Over 100 acres of shallow water are visible from there, and you might see a manatee!
Rowell’s Waterfront Park
Located at Mile Marker 104, this road will take you to Florida Bay, where manatees prefer to feed. You may hire kayaks from Florida Bay Outfitters, right next door, to search for manatees.
The 8-acre dog-friendly park has picnic tables, chairs, a swimming area, and a boat launch.
Lorelei’s Restaurant Waterfront
Some of the best seafood in the Florida Keys can be found at the Lorelei Restaurant and Cabana Bar, which is the ideal setting for relaxing with a tall, refreshing cocktail while letting yourself be enchanted.
The presence of seagrass in the inlet at Lorelie’s increases the likelihood of encountering manatees. Additionally, it’s a fantastic spot to see the sunset!
Indian Key Causeway
The Indian Key Historic State Park is reachable by kayak or canoe for visitors. Most flats may be traversed by kayaks and canoes, providing amazing opportunities to see various animals, including dolphins, manatees, sharks, and rays.
The park is open to guests who come to swim, sunbathe, and go hiking. Numerous chances to jump out and snorkel. Manatees rest and seek refuge from boats near Indian Key.
Garrison Bight is another area in Key West where manatee sightings are frequent. Fresh water in this marina, centrally placed in Key West, frequently draws the creatures there.
Although the manatees are frequently seen from the marina, getting in the water will increase your chances of viewing them. There are many water activities available for you to participate in when you arrive there if you want to get out on the lake.
Join the open-bar Catamaran boat and cruise along Florida’s gorgeous coast while watching for manatees in the nearby waterways.
Rock Harbor in Marathon
Key Largo, in the upper Florida Keys, has an unincorporated harbor called Rock Harbor, which is situated in Monroe County, Florida. It has a high elevation of 10 feet compared to most of the keys.
There is a mangrove paradise there where 350 manatees spend the winter.
Manatees In Florida Keys FAQs
We’ve developed a list of the finest places to see manatees in the Florida Keys.
- Cow Key Marina
- Sharkeys Restaurant
- Dry Tortugas National Park
- John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
- Cudjoe Gardens Marina
- Rowell’s Waterfront Park
- Lorelei’s Restaurant Waterfront
- Indian Key Causeway
- Garrison Bight
- Rock Harbor in Marathon
Manatee sightings in the Florida Keys are possible throughout the year, but the winter offers the most opportunities.
When making travel arrangements, think about going to the springs early in the day and during the middle of the week. On weekdays, local springs will be less crowded, and the manatees will be at their most animated and playful.
Manatees may be observed but not touched. Manatees should not be fed or given water. Never use your hands, feet, or anything else to prod, stab or poke a manatee.
Manatees can change their behavior in the wild if they get used to being near people. This could make them lose their natural fear of humans and boats, making them more vulnerable to injury.
Use snorkeling equipment and float at the water’s surface to see manatees invisibly if the location you’re at permits in-water activities close to them.
One of the most well-known places to observe these gentle giants is Crystal River, but you can also see them in Orlando and the Florida Keys.
If you see a manatee while swimming, snorkeling, diving, paddling, or operating a boat, do not pursue or chase it.
Manatees from the West Indies, Africa, and the Amazonian Basin exist.
The West Indian Manatee is the species that inhabit the waters of Key West. This particular breed prefers shallow, warm water and can perish in 60-degree water.
Although manatees have a large number of teeth, they don’t bite. Like their elephant cousins, they could only grow new teeth six times in their lifespan.
They eat seagrass and other plants with their teeth. They can grow to over 14 feet long and weigh 3,000 pounds. They are heavy eaters and the largest herbivore in the ocean.