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Posted on 02/17/2021 in Wildlife and Nature

7 Places to Observe Beloved, Threatened Florida Manatee in the Wild

7 Places to Observe Beloved, Threatened Florida Manatee in the Wild

When it comes to Florida wildlife, not everything has a row of sharp teeth, inducing fear into even the bravest. Some Florida wildlife are a bit more bulbous and interested in a salad as opposed to making a meal of another mammal. 

That is our lovable sea cow, also known as a West Indian manatee or a Florida manatee.  

So it’s no surprise that one of the most common questions we get from visitors is, “How and where can we see Florida manatees on the Space Coast?” There are several places to see the manatee. It really comes down to the time of year and the vantagepoint you’re looking for. 

The Thousand Islands canals provide shelter to herds of Manatee. The best way to see them in the canals is with a kayak and there are several kayaking tour companies who will guide you the spots they are most often found. 

If you prefer to simply sit back and relax there are also several tour companies who take visitors by boat to see the manatee swimming in the Banana River.  

Then there are the spots to view the manatee without needing to hire a guide.

Crane Creek Promenade, Melbourne 
990 E. Melbourne Avenue Melbourne, FL 32901 

Located in historic downtown Melbourne, the manatee viewing platform on the Crane Creek River is between the US Highway 1 bridge and the railroad bridge. If you happen to be there around lunch or dinnertime, we highly recommend El Ambia Cubano, just across the street and about a block west of the manatee viewing platform. Our Publisher’s favorite is the Ropa Vieja while our Editor goes for the Hemingway Rice every time. (Fish and shrimp cooked together with yellow rice in a secret house broth recipe topped with a lobster tail.) 

Manatee Sanctuary Park
701 Thurm Blvd, Cape Canaveral, FL 32920

On the northern end of the Space Coast lies the Manatee Sanctuary Park where manatees like to feed on the seagrass just off the shoreline of the Banana River. Don’t be mistaken by the name. The park is not an official, manned sanctuary for manatee. It’s a 10-acre, Cape Canaveral city park. The city opted to name the park Manatee Sanctuary Park in honor of the manatee who gather there. 

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge
1987 Scrub Jay Way, Titusville, FL 32782

The refuge Manatee Observation Deck is located on SR 3 at Haulover Canal. Manatees frequent this spot year-round and can be seen most reliably during the spring and fall. 

Bairs Cove Boat Launch
Bairs Cove Rd, Mims, FL 32754

Bairs Cove boat launch is, just as its name implies, a boat launch ramp. It lies within the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and when manatee aren’t hanging around the Observation Deck, they can often be seen at the Bairs Cove boat launch. 

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While all of these are excellent options, there’s another spot that is a little less talked about and more frequented by locals.

Manatee huddled together in DeSoto Field canal

 DeSoto Field in Satellite Beach is home to one of the smallest canals in the area and the manatees LOVE to pack in as tight as they can on chilly days. It is not uncommon to see over 50 manatees at once in the small canal. The trick to experiencing this is to go in the winter months of January or February when the waters have already cooled down quite considerably from the summer and fall months and the air temperature is below 60 degrees. With the cooler water and the cooler air temperatures, the manatees head straight to the smallest body of water they can find to huddle and stay warm, which most of the time, is DeSoto Field.

When heading to DeSoto field, the parking lot entrance will be on the south side of DeSoto Parkway. Once you park, you’ll see a tiny canal just west of the parking lot with a small rope fence. Since manatees frequent this canal, the city has put up a small reminder to people to keep your distance and enjoy with your eyes only. Strict laws still prohibit interaction with these beautiful mammals to help the species make a full recovery.

While you’re visiting the Space Coast be sure to carve out some time to see the manatee because Florida is the only place that manatee live in the United States. 

The Florida manatee has managed to lumber its way through our waterways for the past one million years, literally. Florida scientists have found fossil remains of the ancestor to the modern manatees that date back about 45 million years. How could a species that moves at barely 15 miles per hour and has no predatory skills live for over 45 million years? At over 1,000 pounds and 9 feet long fully grown, the West Indian manatee doesn’t really have any natural predators, until we, humans, ruined the party.

The manatees curious and slow-moving tendencies coupled with a boom in coastal development caused humans to rocket straight to number one in the manatees list of adversaries. Others include cold stress, red tide, and hurricanes. Violent collisions with boats have also been well documented and have resulted in over a quarter of the total deaths,  causing the manatee to be listed as an endangered species back in 1967. Through decades of education, protective legislation, and introducing new waterway laws for boaters, the manatee was taken off the endangered list in 2017 and reclassified as threatened. 

If you'd like to help save the manatee, visit savethemanatee.org

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