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Where To See Manatees In Key West – Complete Guide

If you’re looking for somewhere to see manatees in Key West then you’re in the right place.

Nothing can beat that amazing feeling of seeing a manatee up close and personal in their natural habitat! Why not try it for yourself.

This post will tell you all of the best places to see manatees in Key West, Florida and includes all the information you’ll need for a fun day out.

Are There Manatees In Key West?

You have a great chance of seeing manatees in Key West. 

Manatees are large marine animals also sometimes referred to as ‘sea cows’. After seeing one of these beautiful creatures in real life, you’ll see why!

West Indian manatees love living in Key West due to the abundance of healthy seagrass beds which happen to be their favorite thing to eat. 

You can often see them by poking their heads out of the water in several spots across Key West.

These large, slow-moving grazers can weigh up to 1,000 lbs and grow up to 10 ft! 

So where can you see manatees in Key West?

Best Places To See Manatees In Key West

There are a few places across Key West where you can see manatees out in the wild. 

Cow Key Marina

The best place to see manatees in Key West is at Cow Key Marina. 

Cow Key Marina is located between Stock Island and Key West. It’s a known location where manatees love to hang out so you’ll be sure to spot one in the area. 

There are many resident manatees that live in the marina and they even have cute names like Marshal, Big Moe, Speedy, Pete and Little Rich. They are all named after their unique personalities.

The best way to see them is to get out onto the water itself.

You can explore the nearby mangrove forests by booking onto a stand-up paddleboarding tour or you can try a kayak tour instead.

I love stand-up paddle boarding because it’s a super fun way to explore the area – don’t worry if you’ve never done it before as the experienced guides will show you how.

As you’re paddling or kayaking through the mangrove forests in this area, you’ll be able to see manatees as well as tropical fish, birds, small sharks, rays and more. 

💡Top Tip: Bring along a GoPro to capture some super cool underwater footage of the manatees! 

I’m so glad I did this when swimming with dolphins because the video always brings back the best memories.

Did you know you can also see manatees in Sarasota?

Key West Bight

Another great place where you can see manatees in Key West is at the Key West Bight Marina.

This historic seaport features restaurants, bars, art galleries, museums, hotels and more.

You can sometimes see manatees from the marina itself but for the best chance of seeing one, get out onto the water.

There are tons of fun water activities that you can do in the marina. One of my favorite activities in this area is jet skiing

You can book a jet ski tour from Key West Bight where you’ll be taken out into the ocean on your jet ski. 

Watch out for manatees, dolphins, stingrays, sea turtles and more as the experienced guides take you through the various tropical waterways of Key West.

This is a super popular tour so I recommend booking in advance as it often sells out. 

Check out this glorious manatee having their lunch in the video below. This manatee was spotted at one of the docks in Key West.

Dry Tortugas National Park

If you have time, head over to Dry Tortugas National Park to see manatees.

This national park is a series of islands that sits around 70 miles from Key West and makes for the perfect day trip if you love history, white sandy beaches, turquoise waters and marine life.

It also features the impressive Fort Jefferson, an enormous octagonal-shaped fort which occupies one of the islands.

Dry Tortugas National Park

Only around 60,000 people visit this national park every year which is minuscule compared to other US national parks so it feels like an untouched haven that few people know about. 

You can only get to Dry Tortugas by either a boat or a seaplane.

You can book a boat from Key West to get to Dry Tortugas. It’s a stunning 2 & a half hour journey where you’ll likely glide past manatees, sharks, rays and sea turtles. 

You can book a day trip by boat to Dry Tortugas online in advance. I’d recommend doing this as it often sells out.

If you opt for the seaplane, you’ll get there much quicker (45 minutes) but it will cost more. 

When you arrive at the island, you can enjoy the white sandy beaches and the untouched coral reefs where you’ll find the manatees!

Garrison Bight

Another place in Key West where you can often spot manatees is in Garrison Bight. 

This marina, which is centrally located in the heart of Key West, has fresh water which often attracts manatees.

Whilst you can often see the manatees from the marina, you’ll have a better chance of seeing them if you get out into the water itself.

If you want to get out onto the water, there’s tons of water activities that you can join when you get there. You could also try this super fun sunset and cocktail cruise.

Climb aboard the Catamaran boat with an open bar and look out for manatees in the surrounding waters as you glide along, enjoying the scenic Floridian coast.

Best Time Of Year To See Manatees In Key West

You can see manatees in Key West year round.

Whilst you can see them at any time of year, the best time is during the winter months. 

During the winter, water temperatures drop so manatees migrate south to Key West to stay in the warmer waters during the winter months from November to March.

The West Indian species of manatee, which lives in Key West, only breeds in warm waters.

In fact, they die in water colder than 60 degrees so they wouldn’t survive in the winter further north.

What Is The Best Time Of Day To See Manatees In Key West?

You can see manatees at any time of day in Key West.

The manatees spend about half of their day eating and half sleeping. You’ll often spot them throughout the day when they’re looking for food.

The best time of day to see manatees is in the early morning. In the morning, manatees often move around in groups and are very playful. You can often see them eating and playing.

Manatee Spotting Tips

Manatees are an endangered species so it’s important that we do all we can to protect them.

Unfortunately manatee numbers are declining. This is due to a variety of factors including habitat loss, collisions with boats, entanglement in fishing gear and climate change.

It is actually illegal to touch or feed the manatees in Florida so to make sure you are keeping them safe, follow these simple tips:

  • Don’t feed the manatees.
  • Don’t touch the manatees.
  • Try not to be too loud as this could startle them.
  • Don’t get too close. Give them enough space to move.
  • If you are in a boat or on a jet ski, stay a safe distance so the manatees do not get injured.

These simple guidelines help keep both you and the manatees safe.

If you enjoy seeing manatees, you may also be interested in knowing where to see stingrays in Florida.

Can You Swim With Manatees In Key West?

Unfortunately, you are not able to swim with manatees in Key West or anywhere in the Florida Keys. 

Don’t worry though you can take part in lots of other fun activities involving the manatees including kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding and jet skiing.

This rule is designed to protect the manatees and luckily it doesn’t stop you seeing them out in the wild.

Fun Manatee Facts

To get you prepared for your trip to Key West where you’ll hopefully see some beautiful manatees, here’s some fun manatee facts.

  • According to a legend, sailors once mistook manatees for mermaids.
  • Adult manatees generally weigh around 1,000 pounds.
  • Adult females tend to be larger than males.
  • They swim so slowly through the water that algae can actually grow on them.
  • They have fingernails on their fins.
  • The oldest known manatee lived to be 65 years old.
  • Manatees tend to live into their fifties.
  • Manatees are almost exclusively herbivores. 
  • If they lose a tooth, it will regrow. 
  • Manatees eat up to 150 lbs of plants each day.

Thanks for reading this post on where to see manatees in Key West. 

You should now have all the information you need to get out there and spot some manatees!

Why not use these fun Key West Instagram captions, puns & quotes for any photos you post to Instagram from your stay in Key West?

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