Spot a Sea Cow Around Tampa Bay

Now’s the perfect time to get in touch with Tampa Bay’s cuddliest aquatic mammal, the West Indian Manatee, aka, the majestic Sea Cow. 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 – the manatees make tracks upstream to springs and power plant outfalls where they’ll stay toasty for the winter.

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 patrons of a 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 through the mangroves where you can spy on the local wildlife.


ZooTampa At Lowry Park



They may be big, but manatees are also delicate. With no natural predators, their greatest risks are cold water and boat propellers. Thankfully, Tampa’s Bay’s marquee zoo is Florida’s only non-profit rehabilitation center for injured West Indian manatees and only one of three facilities in the state certified to do the work. Since 1991, the zoo has treated more than 370 manatees and released more than 200 of them back into the wild, including many at the TECO Manatee Viewing Center. The zoo’s exhibits include an underwater viewing area where you can come face-to-face with its resident manatees and with some just passing through.

Meet a ZOOTAMPA Veterinarian: 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.


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.

Enjoy the beauty and awe of the when you spot a sea cow (or a few) in and around Tampa Bay.