Among Florida’s many well-known and loved attractions, there are also some more unique gems. Apollo Beach’s quirky Manatee Viewing Center is one such place – it's been a favorite local secret for years, but is often overlooked by those just passing through.
The visitors who do make a stop at the attraction are well rewarded, with the chance to observe dozens of playful manatees and perhaps even pet a stingray!
Introduction to the Manatee Viewing Cente
On approach, the location of the Manatee Viewing Center may take you by surprise. It’s located right behind a large power station – not usually the setting for a celebrated wildlife attraction! However, its setting is a big part of what makes the viewing center what it is.
In fact, the power station and the manatees have happily co-existed for more than three decades. Essentially, the power station uses clean processing, only ejecting hot steam and warm water as a by-product of making electricity.
This was to the utter delight of the surrounding manatees, who over time came to love the toasty warm waters. In fact, it became one of their favorite hangout places, and hundreds of manatees could often be seen near the Duke Energy Power Plant.
As a result, the area was declared a conservation area and the energy company began making efforts to promote conservation of these fascinating mammals, and the Manatee Viewing Center was born.
As well as welcoming people to visit and learn more about fascinating manatees – the official animal of Florida, who’s closest living relative is actually the elephant - the Viewing Center also rehabilitates injured manatees. It’s definitely a feel-good place to visit, reminding us of how wildlife and industry can co-exist peacefully.
Best of all – there is absolutely no charge to visit the manatees, although there is a café and gift shop where proceeds go to supporting conservation efforts.
Visiting the Manatee Viewing Center
The Manatee Viewing Center is open from November to mid-April, which is when the manatees seek out the warm waters near the power station. Between mid-April and October 31, the manatees generally swim further out to sea and cannot be spotted.
During its season, it is open seven days a week between 10am and 5pm, but it does close on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve (from 3pm), Christmas Day and the Easter long weekend.
The Center is ADA compliant and accessible for people with disabilities, as well as children in strollers.
Not only is visiting the Manatee Viewing Center in Apollo Beach free, but so is the parking. That said, the car park can get pretty full so it's best to arrive early or not long before closing time to make sure you get a spot close by. However, there is an overflow carpark to the south of the center if needed.
Once you’ve parked, it’s easy to find the entrance – just look for the large steel archway with manatees on it!
Inside the Manatee Viewing Center, there’s a large platform where you can spot manatees, often with their young pups and usually playing around. While they’re wild animals so there are no guarantees of how many you’ll see, there are often more than 100 enjoying the warm water. In fact, staff report they have seen up to eight hundred manatees in a single day!
If you have any questions about the manatees or the viewing center, there are enthusiastic volunteers on the platform and in the education center who would love to answer them!
The manatees aren’t the only attraction, however. There is also a beautiful butterfly garden as well as a mangrove trail with informative signs along the way. Perhaps the second-most popular attraction (after the manatees!), however, is the stingray touch tank, which is interesting for both kids, and kids-at-heart.
Overall, the Manatee Viewing Center is a great place to spend a few hours, observing the quirky and playful manatee in the wild, as well as learning more about Florida’s ecosystems. If you find yourself missing the manatees after you’ve left, you might like viewing the live-cam!
The Manatee Viewing Center is located at 6990 Dickman Road, Apollo Beach, Florida 33572.
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