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Swimming with Florida Manatees: Up Close and Endangered

florida manatee

Gliding through the murky waters of King’s Bay, a species that’s unlike any other gathers annually, guided by some mysterious internal compass passed down from cow to calf. These gentle lumbering giants come seeking refuge from the cold ocean waters, heading for the stable temperatures of the Floridian Aquifer.

A florida manatee getting ready to roll

A manatee getting ready to roll!

The Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge is the only place in the world that visitors can legally interact with the West Indian Manatee, an endangered icon of Florida wildlife.

A once-in-a-lifetime experience

Under the careful guidance of licensed tour guides, guests can observe, swim with, and even touch these gentle aquatic mammals, turning an otherwise routine trip to the coast into a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Curious and lacking a natural fear of humans, young manatees regularly swim up to snorkellers to investigate, and occasionally nibble on their flippers. While the thought of swimming among a group of animals (each of which could stretch over 3 meters long and weigh up to 544 kilos) may sound intimidating, the experience itself is both tranquil and exhilarating.

Peering through the cloudy waters of the bay and watching as a massive gray figure slowly approaches, allowing you to pet its odd-shaped muzzle, is an experience that you’re guaranteed to never forget.

Curious young manatee

Curious young manatees like to nibble on a flipper

Where to find the Manatees?

While the Kings Bay area is fantastic for interacting with young manatees, the water clarity of Three Sisters spring is unsurpassed, making it the first choice for underwater photography enthusiasts.

After swimming up a narrow channel, the waters of Three Sisters Spring open up to a hidden lagoon of sparkling turquoise. Here, snorkelers can glide past sleeping giants resting on the spring floor, or extend a hand to stroke a manatee as they brush by on their way out into the Gulf.

What other wildlife can I see?

While the manatees are the stars of the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, they are certainly not alone! Dolphins are regularly spotted from boat tours, and the variety of bird life makes the refuge a bird lovers’ paradise.

Tips for swimming with Manatees

florida manatee saying Hello

Hello There!

If you want to take a swim with one of Florida’s most beloved creatures it’s advisable to book a Swimming with Manatees trip, so that you know you’re going to the best place to see them, and for the safety of both you and the Manatees.

This can’t-miss adventure is best done on cold days and early in the morning. The colder the air, the more manatees will gather in the relatively warm waters of the springs, and getting an early start allows you to see the manatees before the silt from the bay floor gets stirred up!

Savvy travelers should check the tide charts when planning their trip, as many manatees are opportunists, riding high tide into the springs, and low tide back out into the Gulf to feed.

About the author:

Jessica Smith is a travel writer and the founder/creator of Jessica has lived and worked in every state between Mexico and Canada up the Continental Divide, and has since moved back to her home town in Central Florida to write and share her experiences on the road. Having worked in the past as a dogsled guide, wrangler, magazine editor, and field anchor, Jessica felt that the next step was to take her adventurous past and journalism experience, and shape the Go Wanderer community.
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