Manatee sightings: 6 places to spot sea cows in Southwest Florida

Lauren Kummer
Naples Daily News

Manatees are a Florida treasure. They’re typically found all over the state’s waterways, except during the winter months when they head for warmer waters.

Manatees can doze off for 15 to 25 minutes at a time before lifting their big, solemn faces for a breath of air.

This mammal, which is also known as a sea cow, is grayish in color, has front flippers and thick, wrinkled skin.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service downgraded protections for manatees from “endangered” to “threatened.” To help protect Florida's native species, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission suggests that when viewing manatees, visitors should watch from a distance and give them space.

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Here are six places where you can see manatees around Southwest Florida.

Lee County Manatee Park

The Lee County Manatee Park is a non-captive waterway for the Florida manatee. The best viewing months are late December through February. Visitors will generally not see manatees during the summer because the water temperature is too hot. The park provides visitors information and education on manatees so people can better understand their habitat and patterns. Visitors can also rent kayaks if they'd like to get a closer view of the manatees. (10901 Palm Beach Boulevard, Fort Myers, FL, 33905 | 239-690-5030

Lovers Key State Park

At Lovers Key State Park, visitors have the opportunity to see West Indian manatees. Manatees can often be seen swimming through the channels and along the shore. Visitors can get a closer view by renting a kayak, canoe or paddleboard.  You can also spot manatees from the beaches and trails.  (8700 Estero Boulevard, Fort Myers Beach, FL | 239-463-4588

Manatee Guides 

Get in a kayak and head out to places like Estero Bay, Orange River or Lovers Key with a certified Florida Master Naturalist. This guided tour allows visitors to learn about Florida's habitat and the ecological struggles of manatees. Although seeing manatees aren't guaranteed, the guides are professionals at tracking them and will do their best to find them. On the tour, visitors could have a close encounter with manatees. (Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve, Estero Boulevard, Bonita Springs, FL, 34134 | 239-247-4955

Boaters beware: Spring is time for active manatee zones

Manatee and Eco River Tours

Manatee and Eco River Tours takes visitors on a boat tour of the Orange and Caloosahatchee River. Manatee tours are offered during the months of December, January, February and March. Although manatee sightings are not guaranteed, the captain will take passengers to a popular manatee hangout spot. The captain will provide visitors with knowledge and answer questions. The tour is educational for those interested in learning how tagging and tracking manatees work. (16991 FL-31, Fort Myers, FL, 33905 | 239-693-1434

The manatee: Cape Coral's other winter resident


Head out on the manatee sightseeing eco-adventure from Port of the Islands. The captains, who are very knowledgeable, will educate passengers while searching for manatees. They offer 90-minute tours throughout the day. The family-owned company guarantees that guests will see manatees. If you don't see a manatee on the tour, you don't pay. Visitors may also see other Florida wildlife including alligators and birds on the tour. Don't forget to bring a camera to capture pictures. (525 Newport Drive, Naples, FL, 34114 | 239-642-8818

Scientists: 6,620 manatees in Florida waters

Double R's Fishing and Tour Company​

This manatee tour starts in the heart of the Everglades on a covered pontoon boat. The tour takes passengers through the estuaries of the Ten Thousand Islands to view manatees and other Florida wildlife like alligators, dolphins and turtles. This tour is one hour so make sure to bring your camera. The tour is fully narrated by captains who can answer questions. The objective of the manatee tour is to see manatees so most of the tour is spent in the man-made environment of the canal between the marina and the Gulf of Mexico. (25000 Tamiami Trail East, Naples, FL, 34114 | 239-642-9779

Two manatees released, another rescued

Aside from these places, manatees can also be seen at beaches or waterways around Southwest Florida. Just a short drive from Southwest Florida is Crystal River where visitors have the opportunity to get a closer look at the majestic species. At the Plantation on Crystal River, visitors can even swim with manatees.

Tell us where you have seen manatees. Share your pictures and experiences on our Facebook page.