Explore Articles

Spotlight: Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge Manatees

Spotlight: Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge Manatees

Viewing Manatees in Kings Bay along the Florida Gulf Coast

Manatee, Crystal river Visit Kings Bay to view these gentle giants. (David Hinkel)

What You’ll Find

The Florida manatee! What better way to view the largest natural concentration of these gentle giants than in their winter habitat at the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge. The Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1983 specifically for the protection of the endangered West Indian Manatee and now is home to the many manatee populations that winter here. This unique refuge preserves the last unspoiled and undeveloped habitat in Kings Bay, which forms the headwaters of the Crystal River.

The best time to view manatees is late November through early March, when manatees congregate around warm water springs. Visitors can view the manatees in their natural setting from boats, in the water outside of the sanctuary boundaries, or from the comfort of your own home via the live manatee cam (available November 1 through March 31). Except for the areas closed as winter manatee sanctuaries, Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge is open to the public during daylight hours and offers a gift shop and a picnic area overlooking the bay.

Getting There

Start at Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge headquarters at 1502 S.E. Kings Bay Drive in Crystal River, Florida. The headquarters can be accessed from U.S. 19, which runs through the Town of Crystal River. Check the refuge website for a map and driving directions.

Make Sure You

Brush up on your manatee facts! Did you know manatees are sensitive to cold water temperatures and, like humans, are susceptible to hypothermia in winter? Kings Bay, located at the headwaters of Crystal River, encompasses more than 70 natural springs, which produce a constant flow of 72°F water. Combined with areas of shallow water, the abundance of natural springs provides a winter haven for hundreds of manatees once the waters in the Gulf of Mexico drop below 68°F.

Manatees often return to the same wintering areas year after year. Therefore, protecting warm-water wintering habitat, like that found in Kings Bay, is key to protecting and recovering this endangered species. Read more about manatees on the Florida Manatee–Issues and Information web page.

Try This

Celebrate this special creature with a visit to the Florida Manatee Festival in downtown Crystal River, January 18-19, 2014. Enjoy activities and events for the entire family – fine arts, crafts, children's activities, boat tours, entertainment and more!

Leave the shoreline behind when you join a Heritage Eco Boat Tour at Crystal River Preserve State Park. Step aboard the vessel Monroe as you explore the lower river on a tour wonderfully narrated by park rangers and docents. Call the park for the boat tour schedule and other details at (352) 563-0450.

Don’t Forget

In order to care for this endangered species and still allow visitors a special experience, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service encourages passive observation, which means not initiating contact with manatees and calmly observing from a distance and at the surface. Any contact should be initiated by the manatee, not the person.

Get Started

Want to swim with a manatee? Be sure and plan ahead! Make reservations with one of the many Crystal River dive shops or marinas that offer manatee tours and cater to the needs of divers and snorkelers. Contact the refuge office for information on current manatee activity at (352) 563-2088.

Learn more about marine mammals and the best locations to view them!