Manatee. Sea Cow. Floating Couch Cushion. Gary.
No matter what you call them, manatees are pretty cool.
We are pretty lucky that we live less than a 5 minute drive to the Manatee Viewing Center, run by Tampa Electric, in Apollo Beach, Florida. It’s about a 30 minute drive from Tampa, so it’s a great place to visit if you are visiting the Tampa Bay area.
We stop by often as it’s so close and admission is FREE. Can’t beat a fun, educational, attraction that is so close to home.
The Manatee Viewing Center is open from November 1st to April 15 for viewing of Florida Manatees and Stingrays. We go so often to check out the manatees and to visit the touch tank. Autumn loves getting to touch the rays. Or at least dip her hand in and yank it out just before touching them, squealing with delight.
While we don’t love having a view of the 3 stacks of the Big Bend Power Station from two of the second floor rooms in our house, we do enjoy this perk of it. (At least it’s a very clean Power Station, and the largest solar array in Tampa Bay is located down the road. The Big Bend Solar Power Station has over 200,000 solar panels, powering 3,200 homes.)
The Big Bend Power Station is a coal-fire power plant that attracts large numbers of manatees in the cooler months, as they are looking for warm water. The power plant discharges clean, warm water that has cooled Unit 4 in the power plant, that the manatees use to stay warm. Once the waters in Tampa Bay hit 68F, they head up the discharge channel to relax in the waters that are in the 80’s.
It is a federal offense to feed the manatees so they just come for the warmth, before heading out into the Bay for vegetation again.
You can view these manatees by walking along the platforms that take you out, over the waters of the canal. The discharge canal is a state and federally designated manatee sanctuary that helps protect the gentle, slow animals that seek refuge from the cold winter waters.
You can also view them from the Tidal Walk. The 900-foot long walkway is part of the Great Florida Birding Trail takes you out, along the canal. You can view the manatees coming and going up the canal from this vantage point.
There is so much to learn about the Florida Manatees that live off the coasts. The Education Center on the 2nd floor of the Viewing Center is for for kids of all ages. You learn about the local manatees and how the power plant runs and attracts them. Exhibits feature manatee bones, games, and interactive displays.
Adjacent to the Education Center is the Gift Shop.
You can’t pet the manatees, but you can touch stingrays in the tank that is located on the ground floor of the Viewing Center.
The Stingrays reside at the Viewing Center during baseball’s off season, when they move to the touch tank at Tropicana ballpark to hang out with the Tampa Bay Rays baseball team.
The stingrays are pretty social as they come up along the sides and flip their wings (is that what you wall them?!) and splashing water. You can gently touch them, but be sure to follow the directions to properly do it to keep them safe and happy.
After we stop by the touch tank, we always swing by the butterfly garden. There, we get to look at the beautiful flowers and the butterflies that are in various stages of development in an open air cage.
I am pretty strict about not buying stuff at a gift shop, but I couldn’t resist getting a wax figurine that is made right in front of you for just $3 during one of our recent visits. We now have the dolphin, but will have to get the manatee in the future.
Before you leave, take some time to walk the trails that originate from the Viewing Center.
You will enjoy getting to hear and feel the One of the trails leads you to a wildlife observation tower that gives you great views from 50′ up.
We really enjoy getting to say ‘hi’ to Florida Manatees, I bet you will too.
Manatee Viewing Center
Apollo Beach, FL
Nov 1- April 15. 10am-5pm