A FLORIDA FAVORITE: Visit Manatees Seeking Warmth in Citrus County and Around Tampa Bay


CRYSTAL RIVER, Fla. (WFLA) — Here in the Tampa Bay area many of us have been wearing an extra layer of clothing or two as we deal with our cold winter weather.

Florida’s beloved manatees have their own way to keep warm during cold weather. They seek out springs and power plant discharges basins, where the water is warmer (see video above of manatees at a power plant in Palm Beach County).

The Three Sisters Springs is a popular hangout for manatees during the winter. In fact, there are so many manatees in the springs right now, the staff at the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge Complex has temporarily closed water access to Three Sisters Springs.

Manatees in Citrus County. Photo credit CRNWR Biologist Joyce Kleen
Manatees in Citrus County. Photo credit CRNWR Biologist Joyce Kleen

“Thank you for your understanding and patience as we allow the manatees their space to rest and stay warm,” said the CRNWR on its Facebook page.

CRNWR staffer Ivan Vincente said the public will be notified on its Facebook page when Three Sisters Springs reopens. The boardwalk remains open.

Last week, CRNWR Biologist Joyce Kleen conducted an aerial manatee survey and counted more than a thousand manatees.

“The numbers are in, and we are proud to announce that on January 12, 2016, there were 1,042 manatees in Citrus County. Of these, 758 manatees were located in Kings Bay. The Banana Island Sanctuary hosted 395 manatees alone,” said a post on the CRNWR Facebook page.

Manatees in Citrus County. Photo credit CRNWR Keith Ramos
Manatees in Citrus County. Photo credit CRNWR Keith Ramos

CRNWR Biologist Joyce Kleen and Keith Ramos took some amazing photographs of the manatees.

It is fun to watch manatees in the wild. Here in the Tampa Bay area, we are lucky to have multiple places to view them. There are also locations just outside of our area.

Manatees in Citrus County. Photo credit CRNWR Biologist Joyce Kleen
Manatees in Citrus County. Photo credit CRNWR Biologist Joyce Kleen

Here is a list of locations where you can see manatees. The following list and information was provided by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. 

PHOTOS: Florida Manatees

To help protect Florida’s wildlife, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) encourages you to watch wildlife from a distance and to use binoculars or zoom lenses to extend your view.

When you get too close to wild animals, problems may arise. When the animal uses energy to escape human disturbances, it no longer uses this energy to search for food, migrate to warm water sites, or store the energy in fat reserves for use during cold periods. Enjoy viewing wild Florida manatees at these locations (call ahead for current manatee viewing information):

Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge (US Fish and Wildlife Service) – (352) 563-2088

Crystal River, FL (Sanctuaries located in Kings Bay and surrounding waterways)

  • During winter, view manatees near warm water sanctuaries via boat or from boardwalk near Three Sisters Spring (with boardwalk viewing on a limited schedule). Vendors offer in-water tours for a fee. Follow USFWS viewing guidelines in this area. During warm weather manatees disperse from the sanctuaries and spread out along the coast—sighting manatees during this time may involve some travel and luck.

Fanning Springs State Park (FPS) – (352) 463-3420

Fanning Springs, FL (Spring and spring run on the Suwannee River)

  • Manatees are occasionally present in Fanning Springs. Entrance fee.

Manatee Springs State Park (FPS) – (352) 493-6072

Chiefland, FL (Headwaters and spring run on the Suwannee River)

  • During winter, look for manatees in spring and spring run. Entrance fee.

Spring Bayou near Craig and Coburn Parks – (727) 942-5610

Tarpon Springs, FL (Sheltered waterway near Florida’s Gulf Coast)

  • November through May, manatees visit freshwater spring bayou near small community parks. Parking limited in this historic district.

Tampa Electric Company (TECO) Manatee Viewing Center – (813) 228-4289

Apollo Beach, FL (TECO discharge canal off of Tampa Bay)

  • Visitor center, gift shop, overlook and boardwalk where visitors learn about and see hundreds of manatees in TECO’s warm water discharge canal.

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