Manatees, © Brian J. Skerry / National Geographic Stock

In winter, manatees need help getting warmed up

Recently, the Defenders Florida team visited the Manatee Viewing Center in Apollo Beach, Florida. Nancy Gloman and Michelle Davis from our national headquarters, volunteer Cathy Connolly and Defenders’ National Council member Barbara Long also came along; this was an opportunity no one wanted to miss. That’s because the viewing center, located at the Tampa Electric Big Bend Power Station’s discharge canal, gives visitors the rare opportunity to see hundreds of manatees at once, resting in the warm water the power station pumps out.

Manatee Viewing Center, © Shannon Miller/Defenders

The power station at the Manatee Viewing Center. Manatees are drawn to warm water sources in winter.

When we first arrived at the center, we came to a mangrove-covered walkway that led us out onto a very long dock. As we walked further down the path, we noticed how LOUD the power plant is, drowning out almost all natural sound. Then, as we emerged from the trees, we were treated to a spectacular– and surreal– sight: manatees, as far as the eye can see! Big ones, little ones, mothers with calves, some resting, some rolling around and some floating on their backs basking in the sun. Other species, such as sting rays, could be seen swimming through the shallow water.

While it was exciting for us to watch so many manatees together, it was also a little sad to have to see them in the shadow of a very large, very loud power plant. Manatees seek out warm-water areas whenever the water temperature dips below 68 degrees or so. Before the advent of power plants, manatees relied solely on warm-water springs and other natural areas for refuge in the winter months. But now, power plants are both a source of warmth and a big potential problem for manatees, as around 60% of the manatee population has become dependent on artificial sources of warm water at power plants. Loss of warm-water habitat is a serious long-term threat to manatees.

If the Tampa Electric Big Bend Power Station or other electric plants are shut down or experience equipment failure, it could mean death for many of these manatees, which may only know these locations as an escape from cooler winter waters. In fact, these discharge canals are designated manatee sanctuaries because they are so critical to the species’ survival. Some power plants host over a thousand manatees during cold weather events, making these groups of animals extremely vulnerable in the event of a power failure or outbreak of disease.

Manatee, © Cathy Connolly

A manatee swims on its back at the Manatee Viewing Center in Apollo Beach, Florida.

This is why it is so important that we protect the manatees’ natural habitat, and restore our natural springs. Artificial sources of warm water like the power plant are uncertain and aren’t sustainable for future generations. Defenders is dedicated to protecting coastal habitat and natural springs for manatees, and establishing refuges and sanctuaries that keep them safe from collisions with speeding boats. Our ongoing work to improve protections for manatees in Kings Bay in Crystal River, Florida is a primary example of this work. We are also working with government agencies and other organizations to create a plan to wean manatees from artificial sources of warm water.

Our visit to the Manatee Viewing Center during the winter was an unforgettable experience. With careful management and restoration work, we can enjoy the sight of manatee gatherings at natural springs and protected sanctuaries for years to come.

Shannon Miller, Florida Program Coordinator

32 Responses to “In winter, manatees need help getting warmed up”

  1. nora coyle

    we should be doing everything possible to save the manatees. Is there a petition to be signed?

  2. Michael A. Stumpf

    We really need to restore the natural warm waters these Manatees once had.
    For future reference we need to triple our environmental impact studies and implement the expertise of independent scientists.

  3. Randi Tuck

    Please don’t shut down something that is needed for survival. If you couldn’t breathe would you want your oxygen shut off. Think about it.

  4. sharyn baker

    Everything possible should be done for the Manatees, their numbers are diminishing what a shame if we were to lose them all.

  5. Chris

    Sounds like a Noah’s Ark situation.. Maybe one of the big amusement park companies can create an open water park that uses solar power to warm the water.

  6. Madeline Cabano

    We must do whatever we can to aid the survival of these beautiful, gentle animals.


    What a disgrace it would be to not do everything possible to maintain the manatees habitat.

  8. Marjorie Hass

    Something needs to be done to help the manatees. They are beautiful, big sea cows that deserve to live. They are already endangered with ships running into them.

  9. Rita Adams

    Manatees are gentle giants that are forgoten by most people, they need our support, concerne and comitment to keep the warm wathers they need to survieve the winter temperatures.
    Please lets do something about it SOON.


    Manatee numbers are declining, please do something to help them. The loud sound of the power plant cannot be good for their hearing, but I do understand they need the warm water. Perhaps restoring natural warm habitats is the answer.

  11. Myrle Horn

    These helpless, gentle features need our help—let’s help them.

  12. Myrle Horn

    These beautiful, gentle creatures need our help, so let’s help them.

  13. Sally Hodges Clanin

    I will sign a petition, is there one out there?

  14. Phyllis Buckley

    Please work to save these kind, docile animals. We must turn back the rampant neglect and degradation of our planet. Please let us be stewards of this place we all call home. Let’s protect the manatees!

  15. Peggy

    Manatees are beautiful creatures and I hope something can be done to preserve their numbers. What a shame if we can’t help them out. I wish there were a way that we could channel them away from the power station to warmer waters, but I realize that me be wishful thinking. They are in my prayers.

  16. Diane Pease

    These animals are such beautiful, gentle giants. Something needs to be done to help them. Is there a petition out there that would help?

  17. Linda M. Schwartz

    Please do EVERYTHING POSSIBLE to save the Manatees!!!

  18. Tena Jay

    I am not a scientist , but I would like to think my opinion counts for something. Making sure the Natural sources of warmth , and all the natural sources these beautiful creatures need to survive and thrive are restored. This counts for all species before we lose them all …

  19. Loretta

    Restoring the warm springs should be a top priority for Flridian voters. We can make a difference if we care enough to speak up and voice it’s importance.

  20. Jean Le Marquand

    Manatees are wonderful, totally non-aggressive creatures, (which is not a word I would use to describe home sapiens). We must save them…for their sakes and for the sakes of future generations of humans who will hopefully be more appreciative of the amazing, priceless bio diversity on this planet.

  21. Jacqueline Daly

    It’s sad that we destroyer the Manatees’ natural habitat. It seems we as a species are determined to cause problems rather than thoughtfully coexisting. I hope the plants continue to operate until the natural areas are restored.

  22. therese habif

    please help and protect those beautiful and friendly animals

  23. Ken Franks


    Too bad that real justice could not be dealt to those corrupt individuals who
    abuse the animal kingdom. It will come when the Creator judges and convicts.

  24. Linda Serio

    Everything possible needs to be done to help Manatees thrive!
    If there is a petition I didn’t see it.

  25. janery

    Florida voters should insist on a voter referendum….and get the word out by all of us. We must all take responsibility and act. Collective coordinated action is our only hope of drowning out big money interests, because we are so many more than they are.

  26. Dawn Ausborn

    How you can help….click on highlighted “protecting your coastal habitat and natural springs” and then the next page, go to right-of-center and click on “how you can help.
    We are their voices….we HAVE to do whatever we can. We all, also, must get involved in stopping the seismic testing off the coast of California. It’s all so devastating, our sea life are all in danger of extinction. It makes me cry, it really does.

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