Winter probably is the best time to take a manatee tour. The main reason is that the waters of the Gulf of Mexico range in temperature between 58-66 degrees or so in the months of December, January, February and even March, and manatees, like humans, prefer their water warm.
The shallow rivers and streams along the Gulf Coast near coastal Homosassa and Crystal River stay around 72 degrees year round and manatees flock to the area. You’ll have an excellent chance to get up close and personal with one of the gentle, sweet creatures.
Manatees are mammals that look something like a cross between a seal and a cow. They have large flippers and their fins in the back are shaped like a great fan or large paddle. Their faces have a long snout – with whiskers. They actually are related to the elephant and the hyrax and it’s believed manatees evolved from wading, plant-eating animals. Adults can grow to be more than 10-feet in length and they can way up to 1,200 pounds.
They are very slow swimmers and they feed on grass in shallow streams and rivers, which makes them very accessible to swimmers of all skill levels. Chances are, if you can’t swim very well, you’ll find a tour guide that can take you to a stream shallow enough that you’ll be able to stand in the water while the manatees swim around you. Manatees prefer water only about 3-7 feet deep, so you have a terrific opportunity to find a stream in which you and your youngsters may wade easily.
Here at Capt. Mike’s Sunshine River Tours, we’ll provide you with everything you’ll need to wade or swim with the manatees, from a wetsuit, to swim fins and snorkel. We can accommodate you with a private tour, or you may join up to 15 other soon-to-be-manatee fans on one of our larger river tours. We don’t take any more than 15 passengers on a tour at a time because we wish to be respectful of the manatees. This also allows you a very intimate encounter with these wonderful creatures. You’ll have a chance to mingle in the water with the manatees for a minimum of two hours – our tours average three hours in length.
The winter months are best to swim with the manatees because they tend to leave the coastal rivers and streams around April, returning in the fall (around October). We do recommend that you take our tours held earlier in the day – those tours tend to give our guests the best experience with the manatees.