Spotlight: Viewing Manatees in Kings Bay along the Florida Gulf Coast
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 or in the water outside of the sanctuary boundaries. 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.
Start at Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge headquarters at 1502 S.E. Kings Bay Drive in Crystal River, Florida, immediately adjacent to the Port Hotel and Marina. 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 the winter months? 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.
Celebrate this special creature with a visit to the annual Manatee Festival! This year’s event takes place January 26-27 at Valentine Park near Blue Spring State Park. Enjoy activities and events for the entire family – arts, crafts, dancing, games, food, face painting and more! Inside the park, view manatees, learn about local environmental clubs, observe 1800's artisans and more. Proceeds from this fundraising event go to support Friends of Blue Spring State Park.
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.
In order to care for this endangered species and still allow visitors a special experience, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service encourage 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.
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!