The Florida manatees you will see in Southwest Florida are a subspecies of West Indian manatees, which live in the waters around Florida, the Caribbean, Central America and northern South America. You may even see a female manatee, called a cow, with her baby, or calf. Male manatees are called bulls, but they do not have any kind of paternal presence after mating.
Since manatees have few natural predators and are not territorial, they are fairly solitary and do not need to travel in herds. They will, however, come together in informal groups when they need to share food sources or warm water – the latter of which brings them to the Southwest Florida area.
Although the thick, leathery skin of manatees may suggest otherwise, these docile creatures do not do well when water temperatures dip below 68 ̊F. They are prone to a cold-related disease called cold stress syndrome, which can prove to be fatal.
When the water starts to cool, hundreds of manatees seek shelter along the shores of South Florida.
Southwest Florida is an excellent place to enjoy the animals in a non-captive environment. We host boat tours, which will take you up close and personal to where the manatees will typically be found and you can greet an entire group of manatees from atop the boat while exploring the area and other beautiful natural wildlife that the area has to offer.
The serene waters create a haven for manatees, giving you a unique opportunity to encounter the creatures.
Florida manatees are enormous mammals and should be treated as such. They are peaceful creatures, but please keep your distance if you opt for paddle boarding and you paddle about, and do not travel over resting manatees because they could resurface at any time.
If you accidentally find yourself too close to a sea cow, just slowly paddle back until you are a safe distance away. All in all, if you give them space, avoid touching them and speak quietly in wildlife areas, you are bound to have an incredible manatee-viewing experience. It is never too early to plan your winter vacation – packed with sea cow sightings and an endless list of year-round adventures.
Florida Manatee season started on November 15 and runs through to March 31. As air and water temperatures have been dropping through cold fronts this year, manatees have moved south for warmer water refuge, and slower seasonal speed limits have gone into effect. Boaters are cautioned to be on the lookout for greater numbers of manatees moving into the waterways. When the weather is cold, the majority of manatees can be found in the warm-water refuges. When temperatures are warm, manatees move into surrounding canals and the Intracoastal Waterway to forage, increasing the chance of manatee/boater interaction.
Boaters should be aware that many seasonal manatee protection zones go into effect throughout the state on November 15 and run thru March 31. For information about manatee protection zones by county, including seasonal changes, visit the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) website and click on “Data and Maps.” At the bottom of the page there is information on FWC Manatee COLD-weather changes to speed zones.
When in the Naples, Florida area, taking a manatee sightseeing eco tour is a great way to enjoy a close view of Florida wildlife. Manatee Eco-Tours out of Naples is the only sightseeing tour company in the world that sees manatees everyday all year. We offer an informative 90-minute tour that will allow you to see manatees in their natural habitat. It is very likely to also see other types of wildlife, such as alligators, egrets, dolphins, sea turtles and other animals that are indigenous to the area during the tours. The tours take you and your group to the Faka Union Canal, which is part of the Port of the islands and the 10,000 islands.