Manatee-Watching in Fort Myers

The beautiful and endangered West Indian manatee at a sanctuary in Florida.

The beautiful and endangered West Indian manatee at a sanctuary in Florida. Photo © U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Spend a little time on the Orange and Caloosahatchee Rivers, and chances are you’ll see a West Indian manatee. Take a guided kayak tour with Gaea Guides (239/694-5513) and the odds get even better that you’ll see a few of these mammals, related biologically to the elephant and, unlikely though it may seem, the aardvark. The narrated ecotour provides insight into the life of the area’s most famous species, as well as information about how they are threatened by outboard motors and habitat destruction.

Another adorable West Indian manatee at a Florida sanctuary.

Another adorable West Indian manatee at a Florida sanctuary. Photo © U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Discovery Day at Manatee Park is always the last Saturday in January, drawing over 3,000 people to ecotourism activities, butterfly gardening, manatee-viewing, and kayaking on the Orange River. Manatees seem to congregate in the Orange River in the winter, basking in the waters warmed by the outflow of the nearby power plant. This is a good family adventure, and if you are extremely interested by these gentle sea cows, you can head on over to Manatee Park (10901 Hwy. 80, 1.5 miles east of I-75, North Fort Myers, 239/690-5030, 8am-sunset daily, parking $2/hour Dec.-April, $1/hour May-Nov., maximum $5 parking fee year-round, kayak rentals $15/hour).

Another adorable West Indian manatee at a Florida sanctuary.

We just really love manatees, okay? Photo © U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

There are three observation decks for viewing and hydrophones so you can listen in (I don’t speak manatee, but even scientists are unsure how they make these chirps, whistles, and squeaks). A cow and her calf are especially talkative, vocalizing back and forth. The park rents kayaks in winter and on summer weekends, with kayak clinics the second Saturday of the month and free guided walks through the native plant habitats at 9am every Saturday.

Discovery Day at Manatee Park is always the last Saturday in January, drawing over 3,000 people to ecotourism activities, butterfly gardening, manatee-viewing, and kayaking on the Orange River.



Excerpted from the Fourth Edition of Moon Florida Gulf Coast.


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