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What’s the Best Time of Year to See Manatees?

The ‘best time’ to see manatees is subjective and based on a couple of varying factors. 

Snorkeler with a manatee coming up to his face
Snorkeler getting an interaction by a baby manatee

Crystal River and Kings Bay


In Crystal River, Florida our manatees reside in a body of water called Kings Bay. The bay is roughly 600 acres with about 70 natural springs. Kings Bay is connected to the Gulf of Mexico which is how all of our manatees get to and from the area. Here in the bay they are able to roam freely in



their natural habitat all year long. 


Crystal River is nicknamed the ‘Manatee Capital of the World’ as we proudly have the largest winter population of manatees out of the entire word. When the Gulf of Mexico’s water temperature drops below 68°F , manatees have to come into warmer water areas as they will start experiencing cold stress and hypothermia. 


Since Kings Bay is spring-fed, the water coming from the springs is always 72°F, which makes it warmer than the Gulf in the cooler months. 


Manatee Season


Manatee Season is November 15th through March 31st. During those months, we have a higher influx of manatees coming in from the Gulf. These manatees will come to our springs and rest in often large numbers. They huddle around our springs – sort of like people around a campfire to stay warm. Once the water starts warming up again, they’ll move to other parts of the bay or to the Gulf to eat. 


Florida, even in the Winter months, does not always stay cold. Our temperatures outside can range from 30°F one day and 75°F the next. Since the Gulf of Mexico is shallow, it only takes a couple of warmer or cooler days for it to heat up or cool down. This means how many manatees we keep in the bay fluctuates and you can never guarantee how many manatees you might see at one time. 


During this time of year, the Manatee Sanctuary lines are up, which allow the manatees to rest in our springs without human interference. This may mean that while snorkeling you might be swimming with them from a distance. 


Off-Season


There is a common misconception that once Manatee Season is over, Crystal River has no manatees. In Crystal River we keep our ‘Resident Population’ with anywhere from 50-100+ manatees that call our area home year round. This allows us to snorkel with manatees during any season. 


During the warmer months, the experience is often more intimate with a smaller amount of manatees than you might see in the winter. 


Things to Consider When Booking Your Tour


Time of Day-  We run tours all day long as you will always have the possibility to see manatees, however as a general rule of thumb we suggest going in the morning as it is cooler outside and there tends to be less people on the water. This also applies to the day of the week, weekends are busier than weekdays. Plan accordingly. 


What Experience are you Aiming For


Do you want to see as many manatees as possible? Look to book your tour when the Gulf is very cold, 62°F or lower. 

Do you want a more relaxed experience without so many people? A summer/fall trip might be your better choice, less people come to visit our area to see manatees which means you’ll be less likely to deal with crowds. Outside of ‘Manatee Season’ the sanctuary lines are down and that can mean that you’ll get a closer experience where in the winter months you might be observing them from further away. 


All in all, the best time to swim with manatees really comes down to personal preference. We perform Manatee Tours year round as we always keep our resident population in Kings Bay. Regardless, they are wild animals and the time of day, year, or weather doesn’t have a guaranteed outcome. 


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