Spot a Sea Cow
WHEN TO SEE THE MANATEES OF TAMPA BAY
Now's the perfect time to get in touch with Tampa Bay's cuddliest aquatic mammal, the West Indian Manatee. The hefty herbivores spend most of the spring and summer lounging about offshore in the Gulf of Mexico. But sure as the changing of the seasons, as soon as the days get shorter and the water temperatures begin to drop into the 70s -- (that's cold for Florida) -- the manatees make tracks upstream to springs and power plant outfalls where they'll stay toasty for the winter.
MEET LISA SMITH
This endangered species has been at the heart of ZooTampa's commitment to conserving Florida wildlife for over 20 years. Meet Lisa Smith and discover more about the Manatee Critical Care Center, where they treat injured and sick manatees and eventually return them to the wild, healthy and happy.
TECO Manatee Viewing Center
About 20 minutes southeast of downtown stands the Tampa Electric Co.'s Big Bend power plant -- you can see the stacks on the horizon from just about anywhere around the edge of the bay. For thirty years, the power station's warm water discharge has drawn manatees by the hundreds like so many portly patrons of a Russian spa. An expansive boardwalk gives visitors a great view of manatees lolling about in the warmth. The manatees share their bathing grounds with skates, rays, and spinner sharks, which get their name from their habit of leaping into the air and doing pirouettes. Manatees, we must note, don't leap. They leave that to the dolphins. The free attraction includes a nature center where you can learn about the life and times of manatees and a nature trail that through the mangroves where you can spy on the local wildlife.
The Tampa Riverwalk
Downtown sits at the spot where the Hillsborough River meets Tampa Bay. The islands and channels at the mouth of the river create an oasis for a wide variety of wildlife right in the heart of Florida's third-largest city. That makes the local waterfront a great place for spotting manatees during a stroll. Keep an eye over the handrail and check for a whiskered snout to break the surface of the water. Boat docks at Water Works Park or Garrison Channel are great places to get up close. Slide a kayak or paddleboard into the water and see who comes to visit. But there's an important warning: Look, but do not touch. Manatees are protected by state and federal law.