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A Free Manatee Viewing Center at Big Bend Power Station, Day 171

Today we took a trip, a little off the beaten path, and ended up at a Manatee Viewing Center in Apollo Beach, Florida.

However, it wasn’t at your typical exhibit in an aquarium or zoo. In fact, you might be totally shocked at where we ended up seeing them.

We found this manatee viewing center at a Tampa Electric power plant! No, I am not kidding you. The best place to see a manatee between the months of November through April is at Big Bend Power Station, in Apollo Beach, FL.

This is where manatees gather around the power plant when the natural water temperature dips below 70 degrees F in their typical living environments.

big bend unit 4
The manatees come every year for refuge in the discharge canal of the Big Bend power plant.

Tampa Electric uses saltwater taken from Tampa Bay to cool Big Bend Unit 4. The water is then cleaned, warmed and put back into the Bay through a discharge canal.

Because manatees are warm-blooded marine animals, they primarily stay in shallow coastal waters, rivers, and springs. Just like many snowbirds in Florida, they don’t like the cold weather.

manatee viewing center
Although the manatee are there and easy to see, they are difficult to photograph.

So during the winter months, they seek refuge in the warmer waters that the power plant provides.

Manatee Viewing Center

This phenomenon, of manatees traveling to the warm canal, has been occurring since Big Bend Unit 4 was built in 1986.

And because this trend began occurring year after year, The Manatee Viewing Center was created. And now, Big Bend’s discharge canal is now a state and federally designed manatee sanctuary.

Visitors can come and walk along the boardwalk and view the manatees in their own habitat for free. You can also see other plants and wildlife while walking along the path to the observation deck as well.

manatee viewing center boardwalk
There is an easily accessible boardwalk that will lead you further out in the water so that you can get a closer look at the manatees.

Because manatees are generally slow moving creatures that tend to float towards the top of the surface, they were easy to spot.

However, because we were so close to them, they were difficult to photograph.

tail of a manatee
The tail of a manatee that helps propel them from place to place.

We stood there on the observation deck for quite a while in marvel of such a beautiful, yet rustic marine creature.

The manatees have, what we would call, a laid back personality. They glide along slowly, moving forward by using their tail and flippers.

But every once in a while you would see a younger sea cow rolling over in the water in a playful motion. But quickly it would return to the floating and gliding motion just like the others.

Life as a Manatee, Yes or No?

As we headed back to our truck we laughed and wondered what life would be like as a manatee. After thinking about it, we decided that neither of us would make a good manatee. But maybe it would be fun to be one for a day!

donation box
Although the Manatee Viewing Center is free, they do have a place where you can provide a small donation to help keep the facility updated and free for visitors in the future.

Happy Traveling – Jim and Mary


  • Day 171 of 365
  • States : 21/50
  • National Parks / Monuments : 20
  • Stayed In : Summerfield, Florida
  • Miles Driven : 7.8
  • Total Trip Miles To Date : 18,430.3
  • Total Gallons Used : 1325.9
  • Biking Miles : 3.5
  • Biking Miles To Date : 174.7
  • Hiking Miles : 1.4
  • Hiking Miles To Date : 385.3

On September 9th, 2019, we set out in our NuCamp T@B 400 Teardrop Camper to travel to every state. You can check out all of our dates here : Dates for the States

You can follow along by signing up for our twice weekly email updates at the bottom of the page. You can also follow us on Facebook : Live Simple Tour Facebook and Instagram : Live Simple Now Instagram Page.


Friday 28th of February 2020

I never knew about the power plant Manatee site. We leave tomorrow for FL. Husband go the flu and the Coast Guard took their sweet government time to process documents, so we had to eat our plane tickets and postpone our trip until tomorrow. 132 hours estimated on the water to get home. Keep on living large. Love your updates.


Saturday 29th of February 2020

Good luck on your journey!!! Stay safe and enjoy the adventure!


Thursday 27th of February 2020

I was there earlier this month. Also has a ray petting pool and butterfly garden with caterpillars and butterflies. Great place to spend the day with lots of kid friendly activities, fair food and gift prices and great staff. Glad you went there.


Thursday 27th of February 2020

We really enjoyed it! We arrived late in the day so we weren't able to hit the stingray pool but it is a wonderful attraction for the entire family!