Every winter the Florida manatee takes refuge in the warmer springs and rivers along Florida’s coastline. These endangered mammals attract an influx of tourists and nature lovers hoping to catch a glimpse of the magnificent creatures, which can reach lengths of up to thirteen feet and weigh between 800 and 3,500 lbs. The best way to get up close and personal with these gentle giants without getting into the water is from the comfort of a kayak.
Observing manatees from a kayak is a peaceful experience for both paddler and manatee alike and it is the preferred, eco-friendly and hands-off way to observe the manatee in its natural habitat. Many manatees carry scars from their close encounters with motor boats and jet skis simply because these mammals lack the speed required to escape. Manatees are less likely to be alarmed by a kayak, therefore allowing a close approach where they can be safely observed and photographed without harassment.
Three Sisters Spring is located at the headwaters of Kings Bay and Crystal River about an hour and a half north of Tampa, Florida. This is a hotspot for manatees and a thriving eco-tourism community has evolved in the town of Crystal River. Visitors can rent a kayak from one of the local outfitters or bring their own and launch from one of several put-in locations such as Hunter Spring Park or Pete’s Pier Marina.
Nearby Manatee Viewing Areas
Located approximately 15 minutes from Crystal River is Homossasa Springs, another sanctuary for the Florida manatee. Paddlers can explore the Homossasa River or spend a day within Homossasa Springs Wildlife State Park where they can take a pontoon boat ride and view manatees in the first magnitude spring from the boardwalk or from a floating observatory known as the Fish Bowl. The park also features live animal exhibits showcasing other animals such as cougar, Florida red wolves and black bear.
Manatee Springs, located about an hour northwest of Crystal River, is a good spot for viewing manatees, however kayaking and canoeing in the spring run is prohibited from December to March in order to better protect the manatees from human interference.
Viewing Manatees via Live Webcam
In 2010, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) set up a live webcam operating from dawn to dusk at the entrance of Three Sisters Spring on Crystal River allowing manatee lovers to view manatees from the comfort of home. For 2011 the webcam is still in place, but does not appear to be active. This may be due to the recent renovations at Three Sisters Springs which includes the addition of a boardwalk where people can view the manatees from land.
The best time for manatee viewing is in the early morning hours. As the day proceeds, the afternoon heating of the surrounding waters encourages the manatees to move into the adjacent canal and bay to feed on sea grasses.
Important Notice Concerning Manatees
Manatees are protected under federal law by the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 and the Endangered Species Act of 1973, which make it illegal to harass, hunt, capture or kill any marine mammal. Do not enter a posted or designated sanctuary for any reason. Please respect these gentle giants and observe from a distance so that future generations may continue to have the same privilege.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, “Florida Manatee Program”
This article is copyrighted by Beverly Hill