After one of the coldest nights in decades in Florida and with this evening’s forecasted weather to be even colder, we decided it would be a good day to go down and see the manatees gathering at the Big Bend power plant in Apollo Beach. Apollo Beach is only about 45 minutes South of where we live, yet for the 12 years I have lived in Florida I had never made it down to see where these creatures gather in the winter to keep warm.(Photo from TECO website)
With the water flushing out of the power plant the water in this little inlet can say in between 65-72 which is just perfect for the warm water loving manatees and many other sea creatures as well!
I was very surprised at the number of people that had the same idea as we did. We parked over ½ a mile from the center and the place was just packed! Seeing everyone donning caps and mittens and all bundled up in Florida was quite a site, but is was a chilly 44 degrees without the wind chill! As we approached the overlook, I was more surprised at the quantity of manatees! They were everywhere and not just manatees, there were lots of rays and black tipped sharks as well. We saw one shark, about 3 feet long, jump abut 2 foot up out of the water. Not long after we saw a ray with about a 2-3 ft wingspan do the same. It was all very exciting. Manatees of all sizes were sticking their little noses up out of the warm water to get a deep breath of the chilly air before sinking back into the warm 72 degree water. Some were playing, but most were in groups of 2-3 and staying close to each other as if they were snuggling.
The children and adult alike we having a wonderful time watching them. The locals were telling the tourist all about the manatees and the area and the children asked many questions. The were people there from many different parts of the world that came to share space at this little overlook just to observe these magnificent creatures.
It was getting a bit chilly so we went in to check out the museum. It is very well done and there were many hands on activities for the kids. There was a gentleman on staff that was showing the bones of manatees and teaching the children many different things and they loved it! The displays were very informative and I suggest to anyone going to see the manatees to take a moment and visit the museum. There is also a gift shop, souvenirs and a hurricane simulator on site to check out.
On site there is a Tidal Walkway Nature Trail. Soon we had bundled back up and we were walking out to see what was out there. The raised trail took us out through the mangroves, saw-grass and cabbage palm to the estuary and out over the water. There were more manatees and rays and shark to greet us there. The wind was bitter cold but the sun was shining urging us forward. At one point along the way there is a thermometer showing the water temperature at this end of the inlet, it read 62 degrees. We were just a few hundred feet from where the largest groups of manatees were being observed and there was quite a drop in temperature. I can see why they keep heading up closer to the plant!
As we were walking back to the car I was glad that we had the chance to come out and see these beautiful creatures and even more glad I could log onto web cams and see them live from the warmth of my home. If you can’t get down to see them – check them out on-line at http://www.tampaelectric.com/manatee/funstuff/ if you are patient you can event control the cameras!
If you get a chance go down and visit the manatees, the best time to visit is when its cold as they will gather in the warm waters. This is a wonderful thing to do with your family or visiting friends and it’s FREE. Of course they would be more than grateful if you left a donation. Hats off to TECO and their supports for doing such a great job with this center!
Visit soon for more tales of my adventures!