When you ask people about the wildlife in Florida, of course, they tend to bring up the Alligators. But another one that is really synonymous with the Sunshine State is Manatees. They are protected by the state, and during certain months of the year, they move inland to some of our state parks. Visitors can come and quietly see them and we have done this in the past at the Blue Springs State Park. But this year we got a bit of a late start trying to make it out somewhere new to see some Manatees but were able to see a couple in Apollo Beach.
This was in a bit of a unique location and when I was reading up on it before our trip I was a little confused about what it was all about. This Manatee Viewing Center is actually run by the Tampa Electric company. The Big Bend Power Station delivered electricity to the surrounding community. In 1986 they began operating Big Bend Unit 4 and that same year people started seeing manatees in large numbers in the power station’s discharge canal. This is where saltwater taken from the Tampa Bay to cool Unit 4 flowed clean and warm back into the bay. When Tampa Bay reaches 68 degrees or colder the Manatees seek out this area which is why they are only here roughly between November and April each year.
Due to a large number of people that would come out to this area to see the Manatees, the Viewing Center was born. Today the Big Bend discharge canal is a state and federally designated manatee sanctuary. There is quite a bit of parking but just like all the other Manatee viewing places, they can fill up quickly with plenty of visitors. I always recommend getting there as early as you possibly can.
As you walk around the raised boardwalk pathways that are about 8 feet above the water it gives you a wonderful overview of the canal.
I will admit that the large power station in the background was a little distracting but soon forgot about it as we saw the manatees gently swimming around below us.
As I mentioned we came pretty late in the season and there were not too many manatees still enjoying the canal. We saw about 3 in total this day, but I was told that it came during the middle of the season there are so many more around.
In one area they did have posters hung up giving some information about the manatees that return year after year.
We also found one of these manatee statues up near the gift shop. I remember seeing a similar one at the Blue Spring State Park. I wonder if these are located at all the different manatee viewing areas throughout the state. Guess we will have to keep that in mind as we check out other locations in the future.
We headed inside the gift shop just to see what they had available.
As you would assume the place was just filled from corner to corner with manatees. From stuffed versions to ceramic art models, bracelets and all types of jewelry.
Plus plenty of t-shirts like the above shown above which I picked up for myself.
Outside the gift shop and over near the little snack bar area we found the penny machine I (not so secretly) new was also here.
It was a four design hand crank model. Unfortunately, it was not leveled properly and tilted as bit as you turned the handle, but the pressed pennies still came out perfectly. You just want to be careful on that first turn that you don’t knock the whole thing over.
The penny designs were of a manatee, two pelicans, two manatees swimming and a large fish. Sorry, I’m not much of an angler so I don’t recognize exactly what type of fish this might be.
There were a lot of other things to do here if you didn’t want to just stand around and watch manatees. Down on the main floor, they have a stingray touch tank, there are some of those mold-o-matic machines that once you pay $3 you get a wax mold of a manatee in different positions. They also had a butterfly garden, and some nature trails you could explore.
Towards the back of the viewing center was also a large pier that extended along the length of the canal. We saw plenty of fish in the water but no manatees along here this time. But I’m sure if you go during the busy season this would be a fun place to see large numbers of them floating by.
This was a really great place to see some manatees. I’ll definitely try to come back here next year during the busy season. There are lots of viewing space so I would think even if there are lots of people you have plenty of places to stand and see these gentle mammals enjoying the warm water.