Amazing Manatees!Jan 02, 2024 08:00AM ● By Ann Marie O’Phelan
Visitors gathered around the lagoon at Manatee Park. Image courtesy of Laura Carr
Manatees, also known as Sea Cows, are large, gray aquatic mammals that feed on sea grass, mangrove leaves, and algae. They are around nine to 10 feet long and weigh about 1,000 pounds. They have two front flippers, wrinkly faces, and whiskers on their snouts. One of their closest relatives is the elephant.
When the Gulf waters are cooler, below 68°F, it’s a bit cool for manatees who prefer the warm waters. What they do is look for warmer waters to dwell in. One of the places they head to is the Manatee Park canal in Fort Myers — which is warmed thanks to Florida Power & Lights.
“At Manatee Park, visitors can walk along the canal and view the non-captive manatees from shore or kayak or other paddle craft,” says Laura Carr, Supervisor Lee County Parks & Recreation.
From mid-December through mid-March, the park offers a daily 2 p.m. “All About Manatees” program involves using photos and artifacts.
“This program gives visitors a chance to learn even more about these amazing animals,” states Carr.
Manatee Park also has a public paddle craft launch where visitors can launch their non-motorized vessel. The Manatee Kayaking Company, which also operates the onsite gift shop, rents kayaks, and offers guided manatee tours. Interested visitors can learn more about rentals and tours at manateekayakingcompany.com.
“While on the water with manatees, it is important to look, but not touch, chase, offer them food or give them water as these interactions can alter their behavior in the wild,” explains Carr.
To see if manatees are present before arriving at Manatee Park, one can first check out a livestream camera. The webcam, funded by the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau, can be accessed on the Manatee Park website at www.leeparks.org.
At the park, one can also enjoy the butterfly garden. The garden is landscaped with blooming plants that provide nectar for the adult butterflies and a food source for various caterpillars. Additionally, the park offers other exploration methods through Nature Bingo and Eye on Nature activities. “You can find these self-serve activities in the blue kiosk behind the Welcome Center,” says Carr.
Entry to the park is free, but paid parking is required. Parking fees are $2/hr or $5/day for cars, trucks, and minivans, $10 for shuttle van and $20 for a tour bus or RV. Manatee Park, 10901 State Road 80, Fort Myers, www.leeparks.org.