In Florida, manatee tours are very popular during the winter months. Swimming and kayaking with these gentle giants is on many animal lovers’ bucket list. But is this wildlife experience really good for the manatees?
Most wild animal encounters are pretty black and white, as far as being considered ethical. Florida manatee tours, whether it be swimming or kayaking, tends to fall in a gray area of responsible wildlife tourism. It all depends on how and where this activity takes place.
4 parks that offer responsible manatee tours in Florida
1. Lee County Manatee Park, Fort Myers
- Offers a viewing bridge to see the manatees.
- Kayaks and canoes rentals are available.
- Manatee Park is a non-captive refuge for the Florida Manatee.
- Offer educational opportunities about the Florida Manatee and the importance of wildlife conservation.
*Note: During our visit, the waters at this location were brackish, not crystal clear. Check their website for water quality and manatee sightings before your visit.*
2. Blue Spring State Park, Orange City
This state park does allow kayaking and swimming in the water. They have volunteers on site to make sure visitors don’t get too close to the manatees during their tour. Blue Springs also offers education about manatee conservation to the public. This park is also a release site for manatees that have been in rehabilitation.
This park participates in U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Manatee Rescue, Rehabilitation and Release Program. They care for injured or ill manatees until they can safely be released back into the wild. According to floridastateparks.org…
Resource protection is foremost at all state parks and swimming with manatees is not allowed. However, the endangered Florida manatee can be seen every day at Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. Visitors can go below the water’s surface to view these gentle giants from the underwater observatory in Homosassa’s main spring.
This is my favorite USA National Park. They offer excellent guided boat tours around the Ten Thousand Islands. During these boat tours, visitors are apt to encounter wild manatees swimming in the shallow waters.
*Florida offers many alternative places which offer excellent viewing opportunities of manatees. Visiting state and national parks are a way to feel confident that your choice of wildlife travel destinations are not harming wildlife.*
Follow these main guidelines to ensure a positive experience for you and the manatees.
- Do not get too close to the animals during your Florida manatee tour.
- Always give wild animals their space so they don’t feel threatened or trapped.
- Look but don’t touch.
- Keep noise and movements to a minimum to avoid startling manatees that may be resting.
For a list of complete guidelines for responsible Florida manatee tours, check out The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission website.
About the Florida Manatee
- Manatees are native to Florida but they seek out warm waterways in the months of December – February.
- These gentle giants are also known as the “sea cow”.
- Manatees are mammals, so they breathe air and they must surface every 3-5 minutes.
- Unfortunately manatee’s backs are often injured by boat propellers due to spending time at the water’s surface.
- They are typically 9-10 feet long and weigh a ton.
- Manatees are vegetarians and spend many hours grazing on sea grass.
**Kayaking with manatees can be an ethical wildlife travel destination**
(… if done right)
Abide by Florida’s laws and regulations
“Manatees are a protected species by the federal and state government. The law states that “it is illegal to feed, harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, kill, or annoy manatees.”
This organization is an amazing resource for up-to-date news and FAQs. Please read this article before making any arrangements for a manatee tour.