In my attempt to escape the northern air that was trying to take control of Florida, I came face-to-face with dozens of sumos playing in the water. I wasn’t in a Las Vegas buffet… or waiting in line for the monorail at Disney. I was watching the equivalent of me jumping into jacuzzi– except in the form of many manatees taking the swim.

People visiting the TECO factory at Apollo Beach began noticing in the cold Florida months (and yes… Florida does get cold enough to buy mittens) manatees were gathering in the small bays surrounding the factory. Apparantly, the manatees were trying to escape the cold waters of Tampa Bay by swimming to the warm waters surrounding the factory. So this led to a manatee viewing area near the factory as well as a small museum and gift shop.

I was very worried about going to this place that seemed out in the boonies. I was more worried that there would be no manatees (I abhor wasting time)– what if they all decided to swim to the Bahamas instead? But I was far from disappointed. From the small boardwalks extending along the water, I saw many, many manatees just chillin’ in the bay. It was a convention of giant potatoes with pig snouts and brown plates attached to their butts. Several of them were just lounging against the boardwalk, rolling around to let some lucky Neapolitan tourist take a picture. Manatees may not be showoffs like dolphins or toothy like gators… but seeing so many of them just bobbing in the water was nothing less than adorable… and amazing to see how natural behavior led them to this place.

All those little dots in the water are manatees

I was jealous of these manatees swimming in warm water. I was just feet away dying as my fingers were slowly developing frost bite (okay– an exaggeration). Unfortunately, a couple members of my heat-seeking family had retreated to the car which led to a very brief visit of the nearby Manatee Museum and gift shop. I also wanted to walk down the nature trail… but a more in-depth visit will have to be another time.

The Manatee Viewing Center is at 6990 Dickman Road in Apollo Beach. You can only visit from 10 – 5pm November through April. Everything is free, but don’t follow my example. Bring mittens.

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